Lex Kaplan took it personally when Memphis intentionally walked Jeremy Montalbano to face him with two outs in the eighth inning.
Kaplan made the Tigers pay by ripping a 2-0 pitch into right field, scoring Stephen Alemais from third base for the only run as Tulane held on to first place in the American Athletic Conference, beating the Tigers 1-0 on Friday night at Turchin Stadium.
“It’s kind of a ‘diss’ on you,” Kaplan said of the intentional walk, which set up a lefty-lefty matchup between him and reliever Drew Crosby. “Hopefully they don’t do it again. If they do, I’ll do it again to them.”
Tulane had little going until Alemais swung at a third strike that turned into a wild pitch, allowing him to reach first base leading off the eight. After Memphis replaced hard-luck starter Colton Hancock, Alemais advanced to second on Jake Rogers’ sacrifice and stole third easily, setting up Kaplan’s go-ahead shot.
“I just got a pitch I could drive,” Kaplan said. “It was big for the team. It was a big win tonight.”
Tulane (34-14, 12-5 AAC), ranked No. 15 nationally by D1Baseball.com, won for the 12th time in 13 games and posted its nation-leading 12th shutout behind another dominant performance by starter Emerson Gibbs (6-2). Corey Merrill pitched the ninth, earning his team-leading third save in seven days.
Memphis (16-34, 7-12) has lost 11 of its past 14.
For much of the evening, Tulane appeared poised to stretch its half-game lead over East Carolina in the AAC, but 11 consecutive Pirates batters reached base in the sixth inning as they rallied from a 7-2 deficit to beat South Florida 14-7.
Runners were rare in the Tulane-Memphis game before Gibbs allowed the Tigers to load the bases out of nowhere in the sixth and suddenly was pitching with the conference lead in jeopardy. He had retired 17 in a row after Darien Tubbs’ leadoff double in the first.
Tubbs broke the streak with a two-out single. After another single, Gibbs walked the next batter on four pitches, creating a tense atmosphere at Turchin.
Gibbs then fielded a one-hopper to the mound and sprinted to first base for the final out, allowing everyone to exhale. He wasn’t taking any chances.
“Us pitchers are always talking about this force field they have on first base where we can’t seem to throw it right,” he said. “There was no doubt in my mind when I got the ball that I was taking it all the way over there. I wasn’t going to risk throwing it away or something.”
Gibbs, who also retired the last seven batters he faced, left in favor of Merrill to start the ninth after tying his career high with nine strikeouts. Gibbs gave up three hits and walked one, throwing 97 pitches.
“I didn’t think he was really tired,” coach David Pierce said. “I just liked the thought of going to Corey right there.”
Merrill walked two but picked off Jake Little from first base in between them and struck out Brandon Gudzielanek to end the game. He has 12 strikeouts in 6.1 innings since being moved to the closer role last weekend.
“Anytime you get a win like this, it’s huge,” he said. “The main thing was just going in and filling up the zone. Some got away from me definitely, but we were really fortunate with the pickoff move. The coaches called it, and I had a good move.”
Hathcock (5-7) took the loss--his second 1-0 defeat of the year — after limiting Tulane to five hits.
Gibbs, a senior who will graduate Saturday, struck out two in a row to strand Tubbs at third base in the first inning, then cruised into the sixth.
“What a great way for him to finish at home,” Pierce said. “He was just lights out. He really pitched. He had a good plan and he attacked.”
Hathcock kept Tulane off balance by changing speeds, but the Wave also had some bad luck early.
Hunter Hope fouled off three straight two-strike pitches in the second before lining out sharply to third baseman Zach Schritenthal, who doubled off Kaplan from first in a hit-and-run situation. Hunter Williams followed with a long fly ball that bounced off the top of the wall, inches away from a home run, and he stayed at second base when Jake Willsey struck out.
Kaplan came an inch away from a triple in the fourth when his liner down the right field line landed just foul with the Memphis outfield shaded the opposite way.
There was no doubt about his game-winner, though.
“All year we’ve been finding multiple ways to win,” Gibbs said. “This one ended up 1-0, and we’re happy about that.”