Tulane could not run slumping Houston Baptist out of Turchin Stadium in its final non-conference series.
But the Green Wave did not walk the Huskies, either. The massive control issues that torpedoed the first two years of coach Travis Jewett’s tenure have become a problem of the past.
Getting a sweep it needed, Tulane beat Houston Baptist 3-1 on Sunday behind outstanding location from starting pitcher Chase Solesky and three relievers at the end of a 12-game home stretch.
When Solesky issued a free pass to start the sixth inning, it was the first walk from a Tulane starter since Keagan Gillies struggled to finding the plate last Saturday against UC Riverside. Solesky, Krishna Raj, Kaleb Roper and Gillies were immaculate though 26 2/3 innings before Solesky added another clean five innings.
The Wave (17-7) limited the Huskies (5-18) to five runs the entire weekend, winning the first two games 6-1 and 3-2 in 11 innings.
“Nothing against our offense, but our ability to match them on the mound was the key,” Jewett said. “We threw strikes and we didn’t walk anybody all weekend. That’s the recipe we’re looking for.”
The actual total for walks was six, a strikingly low total after the Wave averaged more than five per nine innings the past two years. In the past five games, the staff has 62 strikeouts and seven walks.
It is to the point that Solesky (2-1) got mad with himself for his lone walk over his past two starts.
“I kind of got lazy and settled in too much,” he said. “I went out there last Sunday, and Raj was like I’m going to one-up him (on Tuesday) and Roper was like I’m definitely going to one-up you and Keagan was like I’m going to one-up everyone. If you have that internal competition, it helps.”
Solesky bounced back with his ninth strikeout before Jewett took him out. Left-hander Justin Campbell and Robert Price preserved a tenuous 2-1 lead in the sixth, and after the Wave added an insurance run, Brendan Cellucci got the final seven outs for his first career save.
Cellucci walked seven in 2 2/3 innings last year, rendering him unusable. He did not even reach a three-ball count to the eight batters he faced Sunday.
“Obviously the pitching staff has been awesome lately,” Cellucci said. “(Pitching) coach (Daniel) Latham preaches strikes, strikes, strikes, especially early in the count. If you come out and find the zone, good things will happen.”
The control has become contagious. Tulane’s bullpen did not allow a run all weekend, and Price, a little-used sophomore with a 13.50 ERA, helped out Sunday.
Entering with the tying run on second base in the sixth, he coaxed a lazy fly ball to end the inning and recorded two more outs in the seventh before giving way to Cellucci. Price walked two, but both came after batters fouled off two-strike deliveries. He was around the plate on almost all of his 29 pitches.
“He was a little bit dinged up and has been working his way back,” Jewett said. “We had him throw to some hitters this week and he just threw really good. His stuff was electric. He earned that (appearance).”
For the third straight day, Tulane struggled to solve Houston Baptist’s pitching (22 hits in three games after entering with a .312 batting average) but did enough to win. Designated hitter David Bedgood crushed a home run to right field to tie the score at 1 in the second off Kyle Gruller (0-3, 2.06 ERA). The Wave went ahead on a wild pitch in the third, and Trevor Jensen doubled down the left field line in the sixth, providing the final run.
“I told their coach if you get that kind of pitching up and down, it will come around for you,” Jewett said. “They were a formidable opponent for us this weekend, but we won all three and found some different ways to do it.”