Touted as a front-line starter with real Friday stuff, Kaleb Roper lived up to his billing in the Tulane baseball team’s season opener.
His teammates were not as impressive in what they hope will be a breakthrough season following back-to-back losing records in coach Travis Jewett’s first two years. But after the Green Wave frittered away a 2-0 lead in the final two innings, freshman pinch runner Hudson Haskin scored from second base when a high throw drew first baseman Derek Ripp off the bag with two outs in the ninth, handing Tulane a 3-2 victory against George Washington.
Haskin, who ran full speed the whole way, motored home uncontested as Ripp tried to throw to the plate while sitting on the ground. Jonathon Artigues had hit a routine grounder to shortstop Nate Fassnacht on a two-strike pitch, at least putting the ball in play.
“We’ve practiced that situation a hundred times,” Haskin said. “I knew, two strikes, going on the swing and I saw the ball was taking the shortstop forward and I’d have a chance to score and swung hard around the base. I was just locked in on crossing the plate.”
The Wave appeared headed for a less stressful win after Roper shut out the Colonials through seven innings, but repeating an all-too-familiar pattern from 2018, closer Connor Pellerin could not find the plate in the ninth. He blew a save opportunity even though he induced a double-play grounder to get within one out of victory, clearing the bases.
He walked the next two batters, then gave up a tying single.
Save for one shaky inning, Roper was in complete control, freezing hitters with a nasty slider, consistently pitching over the plate and blowing a high fastball by nine-hole hitter Colin Brophy with his last pitch. It was his 94th of the night.
Good last year, Roper appeared ready to be a dominant this preseason. Against George Washington, he pitched like he practiced.
“I was just trying to attack the zone early and let them get themselves out,” he said. “I was out there doing my job and putting the ball over the plate.”
Having allowed four hits, walking three and striking out five, he headed to the dugout with a two-run advantage.
The relievers lost it. George Washington’s Cade Fergus greeted sophomore Justin Campbell with a triple to lead off the eighth and eventually scored on a double-play grounder to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Pellerin, who got the last out in the eighth, threw strikes on only eight of 21 pitches after walking 40 in 44 innings a year ago.
“It’s one game, but It is concerning,” Jewett said. “I was probably most disappointed in the whole thing that he was a little bit sped up emotionally. I just didn’t think that he was in control of his mind. (New pitching) coach (Daniel) Latham was chipping at my heels to take him out, but if he’s going to be our guy, I wanted to give him a little bit of rope.”
Roper had no such issues, pitching out of trouble only once. George Washington loaded the bases in the fifth with its first three hits of the game, all on line-drive singles. A fourth line shot ended up in second baseman Jonathon Artigue’s glove before a lazy fly to right field ended the threat.
Most of Tulane’s early at-bats against George Washington starter Nate Woods were painful to watch, with the entire lineup going down in order meekly in the first three innings.
“We knew he was a good pitcher, but I thought we’d certainly have some better at-bats than we did,” Jewett said. “We didn’t punch out a ton tonight (six strikeouts), but our flights were soft and we were in the air quite a bit.”
Even the Wave’s first run was a bit of a gift. Ty Johnson reached first courtesy of a booted routine ground ball leading off the fourth and hurt his left hand on a head-first slide into second base on a successful steal.
Despite obvious discomfort when a trainer checked him out, he stayed in and scored on designated hitter David Bedgood’s single, playing the rest of the way with a pad to protect the hand.
Left fielder Colin Brophy prevented the Wave from doubling its lead with a leaping catch to rob Grant Mathews on a rocket shot later in the inning.
Tulane finally padded its lead on Kobi Owen’s two-out RBI single in the seventh.
The struggles protecting the advantage were better watched from a padded cell but the issues did not cost the Wave a victory.
“Games like that are necessary to get that experience,” Artigues said. “We proved to ourselves that we can do that early on, and it’s going to be big for us.”
Keagan Gillies will take the mound for Tulane on Saturday in the second game of the series. The first pitch is 4:30 p.m.
George Washington is coming of a respectable season when it finished 32-26 with an RPI of 103.