Tulane took out the brooms Saturday and swept away any remaining early-season negativity.
During an abysmal start under new coach Travis Jewett, the Green Wave’s veterans exhibited complete confidence they could turn it around. After Saturday’s dramatics, few observers would be inclined to disagree.
Lex Kaplan and Hunter Williams blasted back-to-back home runs to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth inning. Grant Brown then laced a game-winning single to left field in the 12th inning, and the Green Wave beat Connecticut 6-5 at Turchin Stadium.
The weekend sweep — Tulane’s first in a home conference series since 2012 and second dating to 2006 — allowed the Wave (18-18, 7-2) to overtake the Huskies (19-14, 6-3) for sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference.
“We expected to be in this position the whole year,” said Williams, who has hit in 19 of the past 20 games. “We came out slow, but that’s in the past now. Once we started conference, we’re playing complete games. We have pitching, hitting and defense working together.”
Tulane found a way to win after falling behind 3-0 in the top of the first. At that point, the Wave had been outscored 39-11 in four chances to sweep series this season.
It still trailed 5-3 before Kaplan sent a pitch from UConn closer John Russell, who was working his third inning, off a light pole behind the right-field wall with one out in the ninth. Williams followed with a long homer into the palm trees in deep right-center.
“I really wasn’t thinking, ‘Hit a home run,’ ” Williams said. “I was just trying to put a good swing on the pitch. It was a 2-0 count, and I got a fastball a little bit away, belt-high.”
Brown finished off the Huskies, hitting a fastball from seldom-used reliever Trevor Holmes to score Jarret DeHart from second after Holmes intentionally walked Hunter Hope to set up a double play. The throw beat DeHart home, but the ball hopped past catcher Zac Susi, touching off a raucous celebration.
Tulane, which started 3-12, evened its record for the first time since standing 1-1.
“The feeling’s back,” Brown said. “We feel like we’re going to win every day we come to the park.”
They won Saturday despite striking out a season-high 18 times — two off the school record — and committing two errors that led to four unearned runs.
Connecticut was not sharp, either, running its bizarre weekend total of misplayed infield pop-ups to four with two more, but Tulane still had to overcome some tremendous pitching.
The Wave scratched for two runs in the fifth inning off Huskies starter Mason Feole, who had not allowed an earned run in his previous three outings, before the solo shots against Russell, whose 10 saves were two shy of the national lead.
J.P. France held the Huskies scoreless for five innings after a rocky first.
“He wasn’t his best early, but he bulldogged it,” Jewett said. “He had a decision to make at 3-0: ‘Is it going to keep going this way, or am I going to put my foot down and leave it right here?’ ”
The Tulane bullpen, horrid in the first half of the season, allowed just four hits and two unearned runs over six innings. Freshman Chase Solesky (2-2) got the win, working the top of the 12th. Senior Christian Colletti, who played at Connecticut in 2013 and 2014, pitched scoreless innings from the ninth through the 11th after earning a two-inning save Friday.
“You could see it in his eyes out there on the mound,” Williams said. “He just wanted it. It was fierce.”