Facing an extended trip to North Carolina over spring break, the Tulane baseball team needs to flush the final inning of its weekend set against Connecticut fast.
Otherwise, the effect of one lost opportunity could linger when the Green Wave plays at UNC Wilmington on Tuesday and at East Carolina from Thursday through Saturday.
Tulane (18-10, 1-2 AAC) was three outs away from winning the UConn series before a home run and an error turned a one-run lead into a 5-3 defeat Sunday.
“We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves,” coach David Pierce said. “We’re going to stay aggressive. We can’t afford to be passive with anybody. We just have to learn from how we got beaten today and move forward. That’s all we can do.”
The Wave has gone backward since an 11-2 start in Pierce’s debut season, losing three of its past four weekend series, plus midweek games to Southern Miss and LSU. The team’s batting average has dipped to .245, ahead of only cellar-dwelling Cincinnati in the AAC. The starting pitchers, peerless earlier in the year, sport an ERA of 4.83 in the past five games, with only one quality outing.
Sunday starter Tim Yandel is coming off back-to-back shaky performances. Midweek starter Patrick Duester has given up 18 hits in his past 11.2 innings spanning three games. Friday and Saturday starters Corey Merrill and Emerson Gibbs have traded good days with rough ones the past two weeks.
Relief ace Ian Gibaut was part of the problem Sunday, giving up what appeared to be a tying home run in the eighth (it was ruled a double off the top of the wall), then surrendering a homer in the ninth and walking two consecutive batters before an error brought home the go-ahead run.
“It’s very unpredictable,” Pierce said. “What you do is play the best percentages that you have. You try to know your arms as best as you can and, when you make a decision, you don’t look back.”
UNC Wilmington (18-7) presents a formidable challenge. The Seahawks are 7-5 against top-100 opponents in the RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com, including three losses at Florida State by a combined four runs. They are 2-0 against Wake Forest and beat East Carolina 4-2 last Tuesday.
“We just have to forget about Sunday,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “It’s over. We have to come out and win (Tuesday). We have to get confident out there and just keep going.”
East Carolina (17-12), a perennial NCAA regional team that endured mediocre seasons in 2013 and ’14, dropped two of three at home to Memphis in its AAC opener under new coach Cliff Godwin. The Pirates are 1-10 against the RPI top 100 but have two hot hitters: Luke Lowery (.390 batting average, 27 RBIs, eight home runs) and Travis Watkins (.379).
“Consistency is key in everything we do,” said Tulane outfielder Richard Carthon, who singled and scored Sunday but was 0-for-5 in the first two games against UConn. “We definitely have had a chance in almost every game we’ve played so far. It’s just that error here or there or something. We’ve been in games. We just have to find a way to finish them off.”
Despite the recent slide, Tulane can build on some positives. Its ERA remains the best in the AAC at 2.33. Leadoff hitter Stephen Alemais is batting a robust .351, and the guy right behind him in the order, John Gandolfo, has two hits in five of his past six games.
Opponents continue to run on Rogers at their own peril. He has thrown out 18 of 26 attempted base stealers and added a pickoff against UConn on Saturday.
When Rogers threw high on a successful attempt Friday, it was the only stolen base he has allowed in the past 11 games.
“I’m not surprised they keep trying (to steal),” Rogers said Sunday. “I hope they keep doing it so I can keep throwing them out.”
Confidence like that is what Pierce preaches.
“We’re on spring break, so we can concentrate on baseball and work at our trade without worrying about the academics during the early part of the week,” he said. “It’s a tough little stretch, but we need it.”