The first Tulane-LSU baseball game of the David Pierce era played out pretty much like those at the end of Rick Jones’ tenure.
A sellout crowd of 4,994 at Turchin Stadium — the largest since the two teams played in 2012 — watched the Tigers cruise to their eighth victory in the last nine meetings on Tuesday night. Pierce, in his first year as Tulane coach, saw just how much work he has to do to close the gap between the two programs as the Wave’s strength — pitching — proved to be no match for the LSU bats.
Tulane (17-8) entered with the nation’s third-best earned run average — 1.89 — then gave up five more runs than in any other game as top-ranked LSU (22-3), which ranks third nationally in hitting with a .328 average, batted around twice in the first five innings en route to 13-7 victory.
The Wave trailed 13-3 entering the bottom of the eighth.
“The atmosphere was great,” Pierce said. “We had a playoff atmosphere. The only thing I’m really disappointed in is, we let too many people down because we just didn’t perform on the mound.”
It wasn’t anything new. LSU beat Tulane 14-1 at Turchin in 2013, the fifth of sixth consecutive seasons under Jones in which Tulane failed to make an NCAA regional.
Patrick Duester, who had allowed one earned run in his first five starts, did not make it through the fourth inning, allowing six hits and five runs in 3.1 innings. He also walked two batters and hit two more.
“I felt good, but my command wasn’t really there with my fastball,” Duester said. “My slider was not really working, so I had to go with my changeup.”
The six pitchers after Duester fared little better. LSU finished with 19 hits, adding eight base runners on four walks and four hit batsmen.
“They are a great hitting team, but it really exposes you when you give up eight free passes,” Pierce said. “If you eliminate that and make them earn it, you keep yourself in the game.”
Tulane hung around for a while by making better contact at the plate than it had lately. The Wave, which struck out 20 times last Friday in a loss to UC Riverside and is on pace to shatter the school record for whiffs in a season, went down on strikes only six times.
Stephen Alemais and John Gandolfo each had two hits at the top of the order.
“You try to look at the positives, and that’s a good place to start, I guess.” Alemais said. “A lot of people hit balls pretty hard. We just didn’t have the timely hitting at the right moment. We lost this one, but we’ll play them one more time and see what happens.”
Tulane ended a six-game losing streak to the Tigers last year at Turchin Stadium, getting the winning run in the bottom of the 11th when Richard Carthon singled in Jake Willsey.
Neither player started this time. With Carthon batting .203 and Willsey hitting .208, Pierce gave freshman Jackson Johnson his third start of the year in left field in favor of Carthon and opted for Garrett Deschamp at second base instead of Willsey.
The move to Johnson backfired in the fourth inning when he dove to catch a sinking fly ball from Mark Laird and came up empty. The ball rolled to the wall, and by the time Johnson retrieved it, Laird was well on his way to an inside-the-park home run, giving LSU a 5-3 lead.
Carthon replaced Johnson in the eighth long after any late-inning dramatics were possible. He tripled in two runs and scored on a wild throw to make the score 13-6.
The Tigers killed the Wave with speed. In the bottom of the fourth, center fielder Andrew Stevenson ran down a deep fly ball from Tim Yandel despite getting a late jump. In the top of the fifth, Stevenson was safe on a routine grounder to first when he beat pitcher Dan Rankin to the bag, kick-starting a three-run outburst to make the score 8-3.
Tulane football player Sam Scofield, who was sitting in the front row behind home plate, could attest to Stevenson’s ability. The two of them were teammates when a squad from Lafayette reached the U.S. semifinals of the Little League World Series in 2005.
Even Scofield, who led the Green Wave in tackles the past two years, failed to emerge unscathed. In the sixth inning, he got plunked in the back by a foul ball that ricocheted off the press box.
It was that kind of night for Tulane.
“We’re a long ways away from that team over there right now,” Pierce said. “But we’re definitely (moving) in the right direction.”