On the verge of finding yet another way to lose, the Tulane baseball team stopped the rot just in time.
After blowing a three-run lead in the ninth inning, reliever Grant Witherspoon coaxed an infield pop-up for the third out with the bases loaded. Freshman Paul Gozzo then ripped a one-out, game-winning single to lift Tulane past Columbia 8-7 on Sunday afternoon at Turchin Stadium.
The desperately needed result gave the Green Wave (6-13) its second series victory as it tries to turn around a stunningly slow start. Columbia (1-11) has played much better than its record indicates against a brutal early-season schedule, but another missed opportunity would have been hard to stomach for Tulane.
“We’ve got tons of talent out here, but we just have to piece it together and figure it out,” said first baseman Hunter Williams, who had three hits and a two-run homer in the sixth that gave Tulane a 6-4 lead. “We’re starting to put it together. Once we get rolling together, we’ll be good to go.”
Aside from two huge lapses, Tulane controlled the game, getting a season-high 12 hits while limiting Columbia to six. Leading 2-0 in the third, the Wave gave it away when second baseman Jake Willsey booted a double-play grounder and third baseman Kody Hoese threw into the dirt on a play at the plate before failing to field another potential double-play ball cleanly, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
After Tulane bounced back to go up 7-4, getting two perfect innings of relief from freshman Keagan Gillies (Brother Martin), coach Travis Jewett went to Witherspoon to start the ninth.
“I felt really good about it,” Jewett said. “I was going to ride him through that thing. I just thought, strike-thrower, competitor and that it was the right move at the right time.”
Witherspoon (1-0), a stalwart in the everyday lineup, failed to duplicate his performance against Nicholls State on Wednesday, when he struck out the side to earn a save in his first career pitching appearance. He gave up three hits and walked three in a row, including the tying run after he thought he deserved a called strike three on a 2-2 count.
The Wave added a little more drama when center fielder Grant Brown bumped into Willsey as he made the inning-ending catch. Willsey held on, and Tulane bounced back in its half.
Hoese and Sal Gozzo walked and Tyler Heinrichs sacrificed. After an intentional walk to Lex Kaplan loaded the bases, Paul Gozzo ended the day happily for the Wave.
“He started off with a first-pitch curveball,” Gozzo said. “I took the first one, he threw me another one and I just tried to stay on it as long as I could and put a good swing on it. It fell through.”
There still were causes for concern. Ross Massey walked seven while laboring through 122 pitches in six innings. And Jewett still has no idea what he is going to get out of his bullpen.
But Tulane handled the adversity and manufactured some offense, with Hoese and the Gozzo twins — all freshmen —producing six hits, scoring twice and driving in three.
“If that’s any kind of character trait about where we’re going forward, it’s a good sign,” Jewett said. “We had those punches thrown our way, but we were able to stay on our feet and respond with some good at-bats.”