Starting pitcher Chase Solesky and another batch of long balls gave the Tulane baseball team just enough cushion to hold on for a much needed victory on Senior Day.
An 8-1 lead after seven innings turned into a nail-biter courtesy of a bullpen that had blown advantages all year, but closer Brendan Cellucci induced a routine grounder with the tying run on base for the final out as the Green Wave beat Connecticut 8-6 at Turchin Stadium.
Salvaging the final game of the series proved valuable for Tulane’s American Athletic Conference tournament championship hopes, at least on paper. When Houston lost later Saturday at Central Florida, the Wave (31-24, 12-11), which must win the event to reach an NCAA regional, climbed past the Huskies (33-22, 12-12) and Cougars for the third seed and into a bracket with No. 2 Cincinnati, No. 6 UCF and No. 7 Memphis.
Tulane outscored the Bearcats and Tigers, who were picked second-to-last and last in the coaches’ preseason poll, 61-28 in five games.
Tuesday's tournament opener against UCF will be a rematch of a contest when the Wave's Kaleb Roper allowed one run and struck out 11 in eight innings of a 6-2 win.
Maybe more significantly, runaway champion East Carolina landed in the opposite bracket along with Connecticut (33-21, 12-12) and Houston, the league’s other two projected regional teams. The Wave could not face any of them until the championship game.
“If this team scores like we did today and hits the ball out of the ballpark like we can and commands the strike zone, we can be dangerous to deal with,” coach. Travis Jewett said. “We can’t be swinging uphill all the time.”
Tulane dominated Saturday until another near cave-in.
Solesky (6-3) yielded three hits in seven innings, retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced as he helped six seniors to a final home win.
“I pitched a couple of times on senior days in high school, and today was about that,” Solesky said. “I just wanted to go out there and have a good start for them.”
Grant Mathews, David Bedgood, Hudson Haskin and Sal Gozzo all hit home runs, running the Wave’s season total to 87 homers—the fourth highest in school history. The Huskies helped by saving their best arms for the AAC tournament.
Matthews hit a two-run jack in the first off Randy Polonia (1-1), who had pitched 7 ⅔ innings and recorded just one before leaving. Bedgood’s solo blast in the third came off Kenny Haus (6.75 ERA). Haskin added his two-run shot in the sixth off Avery Santos (7.00 ERA), making the score 8-1.
Tulane won for the sixth time in 19 games.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost,” Mathews said. “We haven’t been playing our best baseball lately, but today we played pretty well.”
Junior Kody Hoese (.384 average, 23 home runs) was not part of the power brigade, but the projected first-round Major League draft pick received a standing ovation after popping up in his final at-bat.
“It was a surreal moment,” he said. “I’m speechless. It was probably my last game here, but it’s just a great feeling to see all the fans, coaches and teammates be so supportive.”
It became much quieter after Solesky departed.
UConn scored twice in the eighth against reliever Ryan Green and almost batted around in the ninth, when Cellucci entered with two on and one out and allowed three more base-runners before finally getting the game-ender.
“When I met with the team, I said, ‘collectively, everybody release (your breath),’” Jewett said. “We were all full of tension.”