Tulane added some style to the substance.
In its 3-0 series-clinching victory over No. 16 East Carolina on Saturday at Turchin Stadium, the Green Wave (21-9, 3-1 American) not only performed flawlessly in the field, produced a pair of timely hits and received stellar starting pitching from Emerson Gibbs, it also flashed a little flair doing it.
While Gibbs’ complete game shutout of East Carolina (20-11, 2-3) spoke volumes on its own, no moment displayed the Green Wave’s swagger like Stephen Alemais’ line drive solo home run in the seventh inning, which pushed Tulane’s advantage to three runs.
The preseason All-American shortstop admired his first homer of the season, strutting down the first base line, waiting until the ball cleared the fence before flipping the bat over his head. The rancor from East Carolina’s dugout was immediate as coach Cliff Godwin came out to speak with umpires and Alemais said he received an earful from Pirates first baseman Bryce Harman as he rounded the bases.
But Alemais didn’t back down. And neither did the Green Wave.
“It was just emotions,” Alemais said. “They are a tough team. You could say they’re like in-state rivals. Like I said, we wanted to win. That’s how the people in my country play the game. I won’t take it back for nothing.
“It was being competitive and in the heat of the moment, at the time it happened. It was just emotions.”
Tulane coach David Pierce said he didn’t condone Alemais’ actions.
“I thought it was a mistake by Stephen,” Pierce said. “He’s a very emotional kid, but he’s never shown that type of emotion at home plate. I don’t think it’s good for our game. I understand the emotion, but I want him to hit the home run and just run the bases.”
As angered as East Carolina was by the display, it couldn’t muster a response on the scoreboard, thanks largely to Gibbs.
The junior baffled the AAC’s best offensive team, allowing just five hits and walking just one batter while striking out five Pirates en route to his second shutout of the season. He allowed multiple baserunners in just one inning and used an economical 101 pitches to complete the victory.
“It’s the best I’ve felt in a while, probably felt since high school, to be honest with you” said Gibbs, the former Jesuit standout.
It was second consecutive complete game tossed by a Tulane starter, joining freshman Ross Massey who earned Friday’s win, allowing just two runs.
As if Gibbs’ pitching wasn’t tough enough for ECU to battle, the senior squelched the Pirates defensively as well.
ECU’s only true threat came in the eighth inning, with two runners on and leadoff hitter Parker Lamm (a .343 hitter) at the plate. Lamm dribbled a pitch to the left side of the mound, forcing Gibbs to dart toward third base, pick up the ball with his bare hand while turning to throw a strike to first base in time to nab the speedy runner, ending the frame.
“It’s really great,” Tulane first baseman Hunter Williams said. “When you have a pitcher who adds defense like that, it helps the rest of the team. They hit little balls like that and if it’s a hit right there, it changes the whole game. He makes those plays look routine. He’s a great fielder out there.”
He wasn’t the only one to create defensive highlights. Tulane’s defense turned a pair of double plays, while second baseman Jake Willsey and third baseman Hunter Hope stopped would-be hits to lead off the fifth and ninth innings.
It was enough to hold Tulane’s slight cushion stand up for the final six innings.
The Green Wave got all of the offense it would need following a two-out rally in the fourth. Jeremy Montalbano and Lex Kaplan laced base hits, setting the table for Williams’ two-run single.
Sunday, Tulane will go for its first home sweep of a conference opponent since May of 2012 when it sends senior Alex Massey to the mound with an opportunity to control first place in the conference and likely propel itself into the Top 25.
“You can sense the excitement from the stands,” Pierce said. “The thing with that is there’s a lot of expectations from the fans. That’s good. It’s about expectations.”