Tulane relief ace Ian Gibaut was well rested when he entered the baseball game against Connecticut in a save situation on Sunday afternoon. He still was not ready for what faced him.
After an apparent tying home run in the eighth inning was ruled not to have cleared the left field wall before bouncing back in play, the Huskies got a blast over the right field wall to lead off the ninth and scored twice more, beating the Green Wave 5-3 at Turchin Stadium to take their American Athletic Conference-opening series.
Gibaut (4-3), who had a 1.27 earned run average and did not pitched Friday or Saturday, replaced Alex Massey with one out in the eighth after Massey retired 12 of the 13 batters he faced in relief of ineffective starter Tim Yandel.
“It was a hard decision,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “The only reason why I went to Gibaut was he was so fresh and he’s been so good for us. They had some good swings on Massey, and I just thought it was the right time. It’s worked for us for the most part every time we’ve done it. It just didn’t work today.”
Tulane (18-10, 1-1 AAC) still could have escaped if not for a defensive lapse. The go-ahead run scored when second baseman Jake Willsey and shortstop Stephen Alemais collided on a slow roller up the middle, allowing the ball to trickle through Willsey’s legs into the outfield. Instead of the Wave getting an inning-ending double play, UConn (17-9, 2-1) scored from second and put a runner on third before adding an insurance run on a sacrifice fly.
Huskies reliever Patrick Ruotolo (2-0), who has not allowed a hit or a run in eight appearances, finished off a 3.1-inning stint by induced a game-ending pop foul that shortstop Bryan Daniello caught behind third base, almost falling over in the process.
“We’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves,” Pierce said. “We just have to learn from how we got beat today and move forward. That’s all we can do.”
Gibaut struggled right away. The first batter he faced, Blake Davey, ripped one to deep left center and was into his home run trot past second base before getting waved back to the bag by his third-base coach. The umpires ruled the ball hit the top of the wall, and after a long discussion, upheld the call.
The Huskies stranded Davey at second, but instead of imploding, they exploded in the ninth.
Joe Deroche-Duffin worked a full count and launched an opposite-field homer into the parking lot behind right field. Gibaut then walked two batters before Willsey’s error.
“We definitely could have won today,” said center fielder John Gandolfo, who ripped a tying single as Tulane scored twice to go ahead 3-2 in the fifth. “We had them but couldn’t seal the deal.”
After the non-homer call, the flight back to Connecticut would have been rough for the Huskies if they had failed to score in the ninth.
“I just said (to the umps), ‘Hey, I want an email or letter after the fact that admits you missed it.’” said UConn coach Jim Penders, who insisted the ball landed 3 feet over the yellow line on top of the wall. “We’re all human. But it was a big spot, and we needed a little luck.
“We got a little payback on the ball up the middle.”