Pitching helps Tulane top UNO

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Tulane coach Rick Jones, third from left, talks to his players during an April 14 game against East Carolina at Turchin Stadium.  Despite graudating 10 seniors last year, Tulane suffered through its worst season since 1993, compiling a 30-28 record.
Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Tulane coach Rick Jones, third from left, talks to his players during an April 14 game against East Carolina at Turchin Stadium. Despite graudating 10 seniors last year, Tulane suffered through its worst season since 1993, compiling a 30-28 record.

NEW ORLEANS — There’s no sense in hiding it. The priority for Tulane’s baseball team is squarely on Conference USA weekends with no chance of at-large berth to the NCAA tournament at stake.

So, the Green Wave (23-22) did itself a few favors in briskly dispatching UNO 3-1 in just 1 hour and 47 minutes on Wednesday night at Turchin Stadium and needed just two pitchers to accomplish it.

Starter Randy LeBlanc carried most of the load, allowing just six hits over 7.2 innings. The junior settled in nicely after surrendering a pair of hits in the opening inning, including Andre Damiens’ RBI double, carving out a clean and economical performance.

LeBlanc threw just 81 pitches and struck out five Privateers while walking none. Between UNO’s hits in the first and another pair in the eighth, he pieced together streaks of seven and eight consecutive retired in flying through the UNO (7-40) lineup.

“I mean, I think I was at just over 60 pitches in the seventh inning, which is kind of the opposite of how I ususally am, because I usually have to throw a lot of pitches,” LeBlanc said. “But I think it helped the team, because we had some long ones last week, and we have a big weekend coming up, so it was nice to get out there and not have to use a lot of other guys.”

Wednesday’s outing continued a strong trend from LeBlanc, a former staff ace who never fully regained his form following Tommy John surgery in 2011, in his fourth consecutive quality midweek start.

He earned road wins at UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe before succumbing late at LSU last week, shrinking his ERA from 7.11 to 4.96.

His resurgence has captured coach Rick Jones’ attention, and Jones admitted he’s already devising strategies of ways to win the Conference USA tournament championship in May and earn an unlikely postseason bid.

“Don’t think I hadn’t thought about how big that would be to know you have a fourth starter like that, if you have a fourth game in a tournament,” Jones said. “Certainly that’s the goal.”

For now, though, Jones was pleased to see LeBlanc successfully hand over a lead to closer Ian Gibaut, who shut down the Privateers’ late rally opportunities, stranding two inherited runners the eighth and one more in the ninth to earn his 10th save.

“Randy helped us today,” Jones said. “It being a Wednesday game, that really helped us. He went one less hitter than I wanted him to; I wanted (Gibaut) to (only) throw the ninth, but that’s okay. I think that will help his rhythm over the weekend after three days off.”

The majority of Tulane’s offense came courtesy of Garrett Cannizaro, who drove in a pair of runs despite not earning a hit. A groundout in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly in the seventh provided all of the offense the Green Wave would need.

Over the past 10 games, Cannizaro is hitting .341, helping buoy a still-scuffling Tulane offense which ranks last in Conference USA in nearly every offensive statistical category and managed just five hits against UNO on Wednesday.

The Green Wave host Houston for a critical three-game C-USA series, beginning Friday night, in a weekend that obviously has Tulane’s full attention.

“When you have four, five, six pitchers, like we do, that are throwing extremely well, and us playing good defense behind them, and getting timely hits,” Cannizaro said. “It’s very positive heading into the last 14 or 15 games.”