Tulane baseball nabs long-awaited AAC Conference title in rain-drenched win over Houston _lowres

Advocate staff photo by A.J. SISCO -- Tulane designated hitter Jeremy Montalbano (33) watches the ball leave the park with his walkoff homer against Cincinnati in the 9th inning at Turchin Stadium in New Orleans, La. Saturday, April, 16 2016.

HOUSTON — Tulane withstood a 3½-hour rain delay and then a final charge from the Houston Cougars Saturday evening at Schroeder Park.

The Green Wave went on to take a 4-3 win over the Cougars to claim the American Athletic Conference regular-season title and earn the No. 1 seed for the conference postseason tournament.

The tournament begins Tuesday at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida. The Green Wave (37-17, 15-7) will play its tournament opener at 6 p.m. Tuesday against No. 8 Central Florida.

The regular-season title is Tulane’s first since 2005 and its first AAC crown in any sport. Tulane finished percentage points ahead of second-place East Carolina, which was 15-8-1.

Facing a must-win situation Saturday, Tulane opened the game with a three-run first inning. Hunter Williams slammed a two-run home run to left fieild, and Jeremy Montalbano followed with a solo shot, also to left.

Houston (33-22. 11-12) fought back to tie the score with single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. In the seventh, Jake Willsey’s one-out home run put the Wave back on top.

Tulane’s J.P. France retired the final nine 10 Houston batters in order to preserve the win. France (6-2) went four innings in relief of Alex Massey, and gave up one run on two hits.

The AAC tournament will be played in a double-elimination format through the semifinal round. The championship final is a winner-take-all matchup Sunday to determine The American’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.

Tuesday’s tournament-opening doubleheader will be televised by CBS Sports Network.

Sunday’s final will be televised at 11 a.m. on ESPNews.

The championship opener will feature Cincinnati, the No. 4 seed, against No. 5-seeded Houston at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The Bearcats, who were picked eighth in conference preseason coaches’ poll, won five of their eight conference series to finish four places higher than their projection.