CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tulane suddenly has new life in the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament, and Alex Massey performed the resuscitation.
On a warm, breezy day, the Green Wave’s fifth-year senior preserved his team’s bullpen, its conference tournament title hopes and its aspirations of hosting an NCAA tournament regional.
“Just really a gutsy performance,” coach David Pierce said.
Scattering two hits over eight innings, Massey lifted the top-seeded Green Wave to a 5-0 win Friday against No. 8 seed Central Florida in an elimination game, setting up a grueling — yet navigable — Saturday. Tulane must defeat No. 5 seed Houston twice to reach Sunday’s 11 a.m. title game.
It’s conceivable, thanks mainly to Massey, who needed only an inning of relief from fellow right-hander Eric Steel to finish the Knights. Now Tulane (39-18) has starters J.P. France and Ross Massey — and a fresh bullpen — available Saturday.
France is set to start at 9 a.m. Saturday. A second game, if needed, would follow at 3:30 p.m.
“My job was to come out here and give our team a chance to win,” said Alex Massey, who came three outs shy of his second collegiate nine-inning complete game. “I didn’t expect to go eight. ... Well, I expected to go eight (and) it happened to go that way, and it saved our bullpen. As far as the next two games, we’ll be ready to go. We’ve got plenty of pitching, and good pitching as well.”
Exercising command of his fastball throughout the day, Massey retired the first seven Knights he faced and allowed only two UCF runners into scoring position. He struck out seven and walked three, including two to open the ninth, prompting Pierce to summon Steel.
Steel forced UCF No. 2 batter Kam Gellinger to hit into a double play, then forced Eli Putnam to fly to right field.
“Really, it was (Massey’s) command of the fastball down and away,” Pierce said. “And everything he does works off that pitch. ... We really never gave in to their right-handed hitters in; we just stayed away and made them have to make the adjustment. He just kept making that pitch, and we played great defense behind him.”
Second baseman Jake Willsey gave Massey (6-4) all the support he would need with a leadoff solo home run to left in the top of the fifth off Knights starter Cre Finfrock (4-7). They added three more in the seventh, highlighted by No. 9 hitter Richard Carthon’s two-out, two-run double.
And before you could say “style points,” the Green Wave’s NCAA résumé got a bit glossier. Ranked 11th by Baseball America, Tulane entered the weekend with a solid RPI (31) and reasonable odds of earning a regional host site.
A doubleheader sweep Saturday, and those chances would be upgraded to excellent.
“I said it a long time ago: I think the winner of our league should be a host,” Pierce said. “But I still feel like every game is calculated, so right now maybe we are (a host), but right now we’re playing to win a tournament in Clearwater.”