HOUSTON — The benches were thin at Cougar Field.
Tulane coach David Pierce was suspended for one game due to arguing Houston’s game-winning double in the series opener and Houston coach Todd Whitting was ejected for disputing balls and strikes three innings into Saturday’s game.
Despite the more sudden change, the Cougars adjustment to the shakeup was far superior.
Even playing the final six innings without Whitting or pitching coach Frank Anderson, Houston (23-12, 4-4 American Athletic Conference) cruised to a 6-1 victory over the scuffling Green Wave (21-14, 2-6) in front of 1,512 fans. The defeat clinched Tulane’s fourth consecutive losing weekend (the third in American play) following a 16-5 start to the season.
It also drops the Green Wave into sole possession of last place in the league, even falling behind 10-21 Cincinnati.
“It’s been tough,” said hitting coach Sean Allen, who filled in for Pierce. “We would like to have our coach in the dugout but that’s not why we lost. We just didn’t play well enough or pitch well enough to stay in the game.”
Saturday’s performance was largely representative of Tulane’s monthlong morass, which has seen its once nation-leading ERA balloon by more than a run per game, while its inconsistent hitting has been snakebit by strikeouts.
Houston pitchers took full advantage of Tulane’s troubles, racking up 14 strikeouts on the afternoon, killing at least three different Green Wave threats without even having to field a ball. Starter Kyle Dowdy, who entered the game logging just 15 strikeouts in 31 innings, fanned 10 Green Wave hitters as part of his four-hit outing to earn the victory.
“We faced a guy today who was way better than what the scouting report said because he was throwing 91 to 94 (miles per hour) with a good breaking ball,”Allen said. “We just have to continue to grow and learn and we have to make adjustments faster in games and understand how we are getting beat. I think today we didn’t make adjustments quickly enough.”
Never was the Green Wave’s inability to make contact more evident than in the final two frames, when it reached two runners on base with less than two outs twice. Instead of fighting back into contention, Tulane struck out five times in those situations, part of its 286 strikeouts in 35 games.
“I think vision is a part and so is the mental side,” catcher Jake Rogers said. “We have to come up with confidence and we just have to find it again. We are kind of in a hole, but I don’t think we are deep in it, I think we can come out of this really well.”
It didn’t help the Green Wave that Houston’s hitters had no such problems.
The Cougars lifted a pair of two-run homers over the left field wall to take command. In the fourth inning, No. 9 hitter Zac Taylor drilled starter Emerson’s Gibbs’ pitch to extend the lead to 4-1, preceding Chris Iahart’s seventh-inning shot off of reliever Tim Yandel to push the game out of reach.
Five of Houston’s six runs scored with two outs.
It was an abnormal afternoon for Tulane’s hurlers without Pierce, who typically calls the pitches from the dugout. Instead, Allen and volunteer assistant Phil Haig took over those duties.
“Sean probably has a better idea and a better plan than me,” Haig said. “We worked together with it, but we just didn’t execute it on the mound. Regardless of who is calling it, we just didn’t execute when we really needed it with two outs.”
Now the Green Wave hopes to salvage a series finale for the second straight weekend, sending redshirt junior Alex Massey to the mound at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“Early in the year, we had that competitiveness and felt we were going to win every game,” Rogers said. “I think we might have put our guard down a little bit. But I wouldn’t put it past us to clean this up and get things going the rest of season and get back to where we were, starting (Sunday).”