Close is becoming comfort for Tulane’s baseball team.
Yet compared to most of this season, Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Xavier was almost relaxing. Instead of waiting until the ninth inning to squeak it out, the Green Wave scratched together the game-deciding run in the eighth.
Lex Kaplan’s sacrifice fly to shallow left field drove home Garrett Deschamp — who started the frame with a double and moved to third on Hunter Williams bunt — lighting the first number on the scoreboard all afternoon.
“It wasn’t the prettiest sac fly,” Kaplan said. “But it did the job.”
That’s an apt description of how this weekend has unfolded for the Green Wave (13-5), which squeezed out an 3-2 extra-inning victory Friday, before clinching the series over the Muskeeters (4-13) on Saturday, winning another game by slimmest of margins.
It was the Green Wave’s seventh one-run game of the season, and the victory ran its record to 6-1 in those contests. It also marked the seventh time this season Tulane won a game when it was trailing or tied entering the eighth inning.
That’s when Kaplan lifted the all-important sacrifice fly, providing Tulane with just enough offense to secure the win.
“I think that still reverts back to our pitching and defense giving us a chance,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “When we had that opportunity, we executed the first and second bunt, and Lex came up with a nice sac fly.
“We’ll manufacture until we really explode.”
It preserved another impeccable Tulane performance on the mound, led this time by starter Emerson Gibbs. The junior tossed 6.2 scoreless innings, allowing four hits while striking out four and walking just one.
It was the former Jesuit product’s first weekend start of the season, replacing Alex Massey in the weekend rotation. A midweek start and four relief appearances preceded his Saturday outing, where Gibbs ran his ERA to 0.69 in 26 innings pitched this season.
Xavier only threatened a handful of times against him, putting multiple runners on base once. That potential seventh-inning rally was thwarted by reliever Daniel Rankin, who induced a grounder to end the threat before tossing a pair of spotless frames to earn his second win of the year.
“I thought Emerson was outstanding,” Pierce said. “That’s as good as he’s been, and he’s been very good. Daniel was awesome right behind him. We really pitched well and had a clean defensive game, and we squeezed one to win it.”
It was just the latest standout performance from the Green Wave pitching staff, which leads the country with six shutouts thrown. It’s helped Tulane compile 1.57 staff ERA, led by its starters which have allowed a 1.46 ERA in 110.2 innings.
“We’ve just kind of simplified our pitching and so much of it is about winning the first pitching and making sure that fastball gets down,” Gibbs said. “It just goes from there and we’ve made it work for us this year and just have to keep it going.
Tulane’s pitchers were assisted Saturday by an error-free defensive effort behind them, including a double-saving sliding catch by Richard Carthon on the left field line in the seventh inning. The play was even more critical in retrospect, after Xavier recorded consecutive singles following it.
It all helped overcome Tulane’s nearly silent bats.
In the past six games, Tulane has compiled a .209 average, scoring just 2.2 runs per game over that span. But the power outage hasn’t cost the Green Wave much ground, going 3-3 and earning an opportunity to seal its second sweep of the season when Tim Yandel (2-0, 0.68) takes the mound at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s nice to get these wins because we had some down times losing three of four games coming into this,” Kaplan said. “So it was good for us to get this series, and now we need to come out ready and pick up the sweep.”