Tulane beats ECU, but falls out of C-USA title contention

HOUSTON — Alex Byo kept refusing to come off the mound. With Tulane’s postseason hopes on life support, he would not let the Green Wave die.

Byo, a senior enjoying the best stretch of his career, battled for 8.1 innings as Tulane held on to beat East Carolina 6-5 Friday and stay alive — briefly — in the Conference USA baseball tournament.

Houston lost to Southern Miss 4-2 later Friday, eliminating the Green Wave (29-28, 1-1 in pool play) from championship consideration in the league’s pod format. Tulane’s only motivation in Saturday’s season-ender against the Cougars will be to avoid the first .500 finish in coach Rick Jones’ 20-year tenure.

“I’m really proud of the way our club played today, but it’s never good to be at the mercy of someone else,” Jones said. “I know our team will go out tomorrow and play as hard as possible to close out the season.”

Like most of the year, Friday was ugly at times. Byo, a former Parkview Baptist standout, threw 124 pitches and gave up 12 hits, including five in the seventh when he had to plead his case to stay in during and after the inning.

“It meant a lot,” Byo said before the Houston-Southern Miss game started. “It could be my last game playing with these guys on the field, playing for coach Jones, all the other coaches. I didn’t want to come out because I wanted to give it my all.”

He received help from a crucial catch and call on the same play. After East Carolina
(30-26) cut a 5-2 deficit to 5-4 in the seventh, Tulane freshman right fielder Tim Yandel dove to catch a sinking fly ball with the bases loaded and one out.

East Carolina’s Drew Reynolds tagged up from third and thought he had scored the tying run, but third-base umpire Darrin Sealey ruled he left early on appeal, ending the inning and preserving Tulane’s lead.

East Carolina coach Billy Godwin disputed the decision vehemently. No replay was available to determine if his anger was justified.

“I saw Tim make a great catch in right field,” Tulane third baseman Garrett Cannizaro said. “Maybe there was some confusion whether he caught it or not. Maybe that’s why he (Reynolds) left early. I guess we can’t complain about the umpires today, definitely not in that situation.”

After talking his way back on to the mound to start the eighth, Byo induced three straight groundouts. Tulane added an insurance run in the eighth on a throwing error and needed it in the ninth when East Carolina’s Zach Houchins finally chased Byo with a one-out single.

Freshman closer Ian Gibaut gave up two more singles around an out before getting Ben Fultz to hit a soft flair to second baseman Bowen Woodson with the tying run on third, earning his 12th save.

“I threw him a fastball inside,” Gibaut said. “It just got in on him and jammed him. Byo pitched a hell of a game. I didn’t want to blow it.”

Tulane led 5-2 through five innings, getting timely hits and taking advantage of East Carolina miscues. Pirates starter David Lucroy (4-2) plunked three batters and threw two wild pitches before leaving in the third. Woodson singled in Andrew Garner with two outs in the second and scored after hitting his first triple of the season to lead off the fourth.

Byo (6-4) hung on from there, lasting at least seven innings for the fifth consecutive start and winning his fourth in a row.

“I had to talk my way back into the game twice,” he said. “Usually, I only get once. I was feeling good. I left some balls up and gave up three or four dink hits at the end of the (seventh) inning. Other than that, I was feeling fine. I didn’t see any reason to bring anybody else in.”

Byo was pumped up from the start of this one. When he got pegged in the back by a line drive in the fourth, he quickly fielded the ball, flipped it to first for the out and waved to the Tulane dugout to say he was fine.

“Him getting hit in the back and going through that is something I would expect from Alex and probably nobody else on our pitching staff,” said center fielder Brandon Boudreaux, who had two hits and scored two runs. “He’ll pitch with one arm if he could.”