Given the gut punch of a grand slam that turned a game-long lead into a late 7-5 deficit, the UNO baseball team still found a way to beat Tulane in the opener of the revived Pelican Cup.
Owen Magee raced home with the winning run on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning, capping off a huge night for him and fellow senior Jay Robinson as the Privateers rallied past the Green Wave 8-7 at Maestri Field.
Robinson broke out of a season-long slump with a grand slam in the second inning to give UNO a 4-0 lead, ripped an RPI triple in the eighth after the Privateers fell behind for the first time and scored the tying run on a wild pitch.
Magee hit a solo home run in the third inning and led off the ninth with a double down the right field line, putting the Privateers in position to finish off the Wave.
All of those dramatics came after Tulane's Grant Witherspoon blasted a two-out grand slam that just cleared the home run line on the right field wall in the top of the eighth, completing a comeback from an early 5-1 deficit.
"Five games ago, this game would have been over with (after Witherspoon's big blow)," UNO coach Blake Dean said. "We have a younger group experience wise, and they are finally learning how to keep fighting. We took a big punch in the mouth that will knock you out, but they bounced back and showed some resiliency."
UNO (6-7) beat Tulane (6-6) for the third consecutive time on the Lakefront, its longest win streak at home in the series since 1986-87. The streak coincides with Dean's arrival as coach in 2016.
The two teams will meet April 3 and April 10 at Turchin Stadium, with the Privateers needing one victory to claim the trophy.
For Tulane, the loss was painfully reminiscent of what happened Saturday against Cal State Fullerton and all too often last year.
After the Wave scored four in the bottom of the eight to go ahead of Fullerton 6-5, reliever Will McAffer gave it right back as the Titans hung up a four-spot in the top of the ninth.
This time, Connor Pellerin walked Kenneth Yetter after Tulane catcher Ty Johnson threw out Devin Morrell when he tried to advance to second on a ball that bounced a few feet away from Johnson. Pellerin and Sam Bjorngjeld (0-1) combined to walk two and throw two wild pitches in the last two innings, including the game-ender from Bjorngjeld.
"Anytime you give a team like that some freebies, it's going to end up like that," Witherspoon said. "To be where we want to be, we've got to get it fixed, but I trust those guys (the pitchers). They are the reason we are going to be good. We've just got to stay together and keep being positive."
Witherspoon appeared to wrest control of the game when he hammered a 2-1 changeup from John Barr to give the Wave the lead for the first time. Tulane had struggled with runners in scoring position all night, leaving four on third base in the first seven innings, and Barr was one batter away from getting out of a bases-loaded, no out situation he inherited.
But he walked Jonathon Artigues on four pitches, forcing in a run and paying for that mistake when he tried to pitch to Witherspoon.
Still, Tulane could not hold on to it lead. Four pitchers combined to walk eight, hit two batters and throw three wild pitches for the night.
"It's going to haunt us until we can fix it," coach Travis Jewett said. "The free passes again, it was upwards of 10."
Tulane freshman starter Josh Bates (1-1) struggled to find the plate in the early innings on Tuesday. When he did get one over, Robinson found the other side of the left field wall.
It was his first home run since 2016, and he was 6 for 45 for the year until that swing.
"I've been hitting some balls hard, but luck had not been going my way," he said. "It's nice to have a few fall in and hit one over, but my approach never changed. I stayed up. Hopefully I can get something going."
MaGee followed with a sky shot off Bates that curled just inside the foul pole in left field, getting helped by the left to right wind. That turned out to be his second best feeling of the night, which he surpassed when he crossed the plate with the winning run after Bjorngjeld's errant pitched ricocheted off Johnson and bounded a long way out of his reach.
"It was a big weight off my shoulders," MaGee said. "The whole game we were up, and then that eighth inning got away from us. It felt really good to come out here and get a win. It's always good beating those guys."
This one started ominously for Tulane. Bates. who no-hit Lamar for five innings last Tuesday in his first career start, began by throwing six consecutive balls. He recovered to get out of the first inning without any damage, but he was not as resourceful in the second after plunking Cody Ducote and John Thomas Mauldin back-to-back and giving up a single to Collin Morrill.
Robinson then connected on a 2-2 pitch for his grand slam.
The Wave missed several scoring opportunities. Freshman catcher Frankie Niemann, getting his first start in place of the struggling Acy Owen, grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the fourth.
Artigues stumbled slightly as he rounded second base after an RBI shot that reached the wall in right center with no outs in the fifth and was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple.
Owen replaced Niemann and struck out with a runner on third and one out in the sixth, running his hitless string to 18 at-bats since his game-winning, walk-off double against Wright State on Feb. 17. Sal Gozzo then struck out as well.
UNO starter John Michael Stephens. a 6-foot-8 senior left-hander, allowed four hits and one run in four innings. Chris DeMayo entered with one out in the fifth and held Tulane scoreless for 2⅔ innings before the Wave's five-run eighth.
Mathew Oset (2-0) pitched a perfect ninth after UNO tied it.
Bjorngjeld had been perfect in seven appearances, but not this time. MaGee doubled off a two-strike offering, went to third on a groundout and scored on the wild pitch after Jewett intentionally walked one batter to create a double-play opportunity but not a second one to load the bases.
"Loading the bases just really doesn't do much for me in terms of my management style or what I've seen be successful in the past," Jewett said. "Sam's come in in a lot of his outings and gotten a double-play ball. The ball getting to the backstop was the difference in the game."