OXFORD, Miss. — The starting pitching depth that was going to carry Tulane through the Oxford regional losers’ bracket came to an abrupt halt Sunday night.
Boston College knocked out J.P. France in the fourth inning as the Eagles eliminated the Green Wave 6-3 in the championship round of the Oxford regional and advanced to a super regional against the winner in Coral Gables, Florida.
Second-seeded Tulane (41-22), which had beaten Utah 4-1 earlier in the day, fell behind 3-0 in the second inning, gave up single runs in the third, fourth and fifth and never really threatened until a last-gasp effort in the eighth.
“We struggled with J.P. France today as a starter,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “He’s been really good for us, and he just couldn’t get the ball down early.”
Trailing 6-2, the Wave scored a run on a throwing error and loaded the bases with one out in the eighth inning for second baseman Jake Willsey. He swung for the fences and the lead on one pitch and missed, then grounded into a 6-4-3 double play as reliever Bobby Skogsbergh got out of trouble.
Skogsbergh and closer Jesse Adams combined to strike out the side in the ninth.
France (6-4) beat LSU twice this year but was coming off a rough outing in an American Athletic Conference elimination game against Houston. He fared even worse against No. 3 seed Boston College (34-20), getting hit hard after a 1-2-3 first inning while receiving little help from his normally stellar infield defense.
After a throwing error by shortstop Stephen Alemais, Joe Cronin and Johnny Adams ripped doubles to the wall and ninth-hole hitter Mitch Bigran followed with an RBI single in the second. The Eagles tacked on a run in the third when Nick Sciortino dropped a nice bunt down the third base line, Hunter Hope airmailed a desperation throw to first and Cronin singled to score Sciortino.
“It was the second game of a doubleheader, we were beat up emotionally and had very little time (in between games),” Pierce said. “It’s hard to regroup.”
When Adams doubled again to lead off the fourth, France was done. So was Tulane five innings later, unable to piece together enough hits against Boston College starter Jacob Stevens (4-3) and two Eagles relievers.
France allowed six hits and five runs, although only two of them were earned. A parade of relievers kept Boston College in check the rest of the way, but the Wave missed a few chances to really cut into the deficit.
Tulane loaded the bases with one out in the second but settled for only one run on a Richard Carthon sacrifice fly. Hunter Williams led off the fourth with his third home run of the regional, cutting the deficit to 5-2, but Lex Kaplan, Hope and Carthon followed with warning track fly-ball outs.
“He (Stevens) was mixing his pitches but he made a few mistakes and we just couldn’t capitalize on those mistakes,” Williams said. “Plus we barreled a lot of balls today that didn’t fall. He just got us out.”
The next missed opportunity may have hurt the most. Alemais, who singled to start the fifth, tried to advance to third on a Jake Rogers bouncer through the left side and was called out in a close play. Replays indicated he was safe, but the gamble hurt even more when the next batter, Grant Witherspoon, was plunked by a pitch.
“I thought it was a mistake to try to advance there down by four,” Pierce said. “But he’s been an aggressive player for us since we’ve been at Tulane, and it’s kind of hard to pull the reins on him.
With runners on first and second and one out –instead of the bases loaded and no outs — Jeremy Montalbano grounded into a 6-4-3 double play while Williams stood on deck.
The pair of twin killings may have been the difference.
“You’ve got to credit Boston College,” Pierce said. “They made every play.”
John Witkowski replaced Stevens, who lasted five innings for the first time in five starts, at the beginning of the sixth and retired the Wave in order twice in a row, inducing five grounders before running into trouble in the eighth.
Tulane was at full strength with the return of centerfielder Grant Witherspoon from a one-game suspension after starting pitcher Ross Massey gave the Wave exactly what it needed against Utah. Montalbano and Hope took care of the rest in the opener.
Massey (10-3) threw seven shutout innings before giving up a solo home run in the eighth. Montalbano broke a scoreless tie with hit a two-run homer in the fourth, and Hope followed in the same frame with a blast into the left field stands as the Green Wave eliminated the Utes 4-1 at Swayze Field.
Alemais and Williams added a pair of hits.
“I felt good,” Massey said. “I just went out there and tried to give my team a chance to win. Early in the game I was getting behind in the count, so I just wanted to attack the strike zone. When your teammates hit two home runs like that, it’s easy to throw.”
The nightcap was a different story.
Tulane, which lost to Boston College 7-2 on Friday, suffered a similar fate in the rematch, never leading in either game.
“We had like an hour break in between games, which isn’t much time to recover, but you have to fight your way through it,” Williams said. “We were a little flat at first and it bit us in the end.”