Rallying from a three-run deficit felt so nice, the surging Tulane baseball team did it twice.
After coming back to win at LSU on Tuesday, the Green Wave trailed South Florida by three runs in the sixth inning, then erupted for five runs in the seventh, beating the Bulls 6-4 on Friday night in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Suddenly, this Tulane team looks nothing like the one that lost 12 of its first 15 games. The Wave (11-15) still has plenty of work to do to recover from that early-season hole, but it has won eight of its past 11.
South Florida (22-4) matched its most lopsided loss of the year, having falling by two runs once and one run twice before arriving in New Orleans.
The long ball was the weapon of choice against LSU, but contact was the key element against South Florida.
Pinch hitter Grant Brown chased starter Phoenix Sanders with a one-out double into the gap to make it 3-2. Jake Willsey, Paul Gozzo and Grant Witherspoon followed with three straight infield singles off Joe Cavallaro (2-1) as the Wave went ahead 4-3.
Lex Kaplan padded the margin with an RBI grounder, and Jarret DeHart drove in the final run with a single that finally reached the outfield.
Earlier this year, Tulane could not put the ball in play in clutch situations.
“Sometimes it just takes time,” first-year coach Travis Jewett said. “It’s like spinning a vault where you’re just kind of looking for the combos. If you can get it and hear it click, you’re OK. We just keep encouraging the kids to stay engaged in the game.”
Tulane ace Corey Merrill (3-2) kept South Florida scoreless for all but one of the seven innings he worked, making some clutch pitches to prevent the Wave from falling behind by more than three runs. He ended the sixth with a strikeout, stranding two runners, and induced a 6-4-3 double play with the bases loaded to get out of the seventh.
That stretch came after he allowed three straight doubles and five consecutive base runners in the fourth, following a season-long pattern. He has given up three or more runs in an inning five times, but this was the first occasion he bounced back to earn the victory.
“They are a really good hitting team,” he said. “I didn’t have anything going by them really. The main thing was to keep fighting and give my team a chance to win. They punched me in the jaw in the fourth inning, and I kept fighting and they played great defense behind me.”
Willsey ended the game with one last defensive gem, charging a slow ground ball and shoveling it to Hunter Williams at first base to barely nip a South Florida runner with the tying run on base. Christian Colletti picked up his third save.
“It’s an RBI with his glove,” Jewett said. “It’s a defensive play that keeps a run off the board from them. He (Willsey) is a heck of a defender.”