Alex Massey waited a long time for an outing like this.
But the shoulder injury, sporadic control and uneven velocity that hampered Tulane’s starting pitcher for the past 16 months was nowhere to be found Tuesday night, as Massey tossed six shutout innings en route to the Green Wave’s 8-1 baseball victory over Nicholls State at Turchin Stadium.
The Green Wave (18-24) swept the two-game season series against the Colonels (25-21), as it won for the third time in its past four games, marking Tulane’s best week since February.
The redshirt sophomore wasted no time proving this game would be a far cry from his earlier performances this season. In his four previous starts, Massey failed to get out of the fourth inning, allowing at least three runs in each.
This time, the Baton Rouge native struck out four batters in the first two innings, allowed just one hit through the first four innings, and wiggled out of a jam in the sixth. The six innings tied Massey’s longest career outing, and his seven strike outs matched his career high.
It was the pitcher Tulane interim coach Jake Gautreau said reminded him much more of the one who had a 3.86 ERA in 51.1 innings as a freshman in 2012 than the one who entered the night 1-4 with a 8.31 ERA. Whether it was recovering from the shoulder surgery that forced him to miss all of 2013 or simply a lack of confidence on the mound, Gautreau said he believes Tuesday was a turning point for Massey.
“His velocity was better than it has been in a long time, and it may be the best it has been since he’s been here. And his breaking ball tonight was really good,” Gautreau said. “He had command of three pitches. He did an amazing job for us tonight.”
The rest of the Green Wave (18-24) followed Massey’s lead.
Not only did Tulane not commit an error, its offense, which has languished near the bottom of Division I in batting average (entering the game at .224), exploded against six Nicholls State pitchers for 12 hits while striking out only twice.
Tulane started early, manufacturing a run in the first inning when Jake Willsey doubled down the left-field line before Garrett Deschamp drove him in with a run-scoring single one batter later. The lead stretched to 2-0 when Tulane cashed in on Hunter Hope’s leadoff double in the fourth, thanks to Grant Brown’s RBI single into right field.
But it was Stephen Alemais who put the Colonels on the ropes. With a pair of runners in scoring position and two outs in the fifth, the freshman hit his first career home run over the left-center-field wall, pushing Tulane’s advantage to 5-0.
Alemais, who is hitting .304 in the past 10 games after dipping under .200 earlier in the season, credited his resurgent offense to a rediscovered leg kick in his swing, which he abandoned after tearing the labrum in his left shoulder last year.
“I decided I have nothing to lose,” Alemais said. “So I brought (the leg kick) back. I guess I just feel really confident now.”
A shaky Nicholls State bullpen allowed three more Green Wave runs to score in the eighth inning, allowing Tulane to scor its most runs since a 10-5 victory over Cal on March 7.
Tulane will take its newfound momentum into a critical home series against Southern Miss starting Friday night. The Green Wave is 11th in Conference USA and needs to climb four games to catch Middle Tennessee for the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament.
“When you play relaxed, you play better baseball,” Gautreau said. “The fact we played so well here the past four games and play the way we did tonight, we keep talking about it, we need to get on a roll. We know conference weekends are very big for us. We know where we stand.”