HOUSTON — Tulane ran into a new problem in a season with a long list of them in its first game at the Conference USA baseball tournament — its pitchers could not get anyone out.
Second-seed Southern Miss (29-25) rallied from an early four-run deficit to beat the No. 7 Green Wave 10-7 Wednesday afternoon at Reckling Park, leaving the Green Wave’s NCAA regional hopes on life support.
To extend its season past the conference tournament, Tulane (28-28) must beat East Carolina on Friday, beat Houston on Saturday and hope Southern Miss loses its last two games in pod play. Anything else will keep the Green Wave out of the championship game and on the outside looking in for the fifth consecutive year when the NCAA tournament starts.
“It’s definitely a tough one to swallow,” senior third baseman Garrett Cannizaro said. “We had full expectations to win that game.”
The Green Wave, which was last in the league in runs scored and batting average entering the tournament, chased Southern Miss ace Andrew Pierce in the fifth inning and finished with seven runs on 13 hits.
That was not enough courtesy of the uncharacteristically poor pitching.
“We came out with great energy,” said Tulane coach Rick Jones, who was ejected after arguing a called third strike to end the Wave’s half of the eighth. “Our execution offensively was as good as we’ve had in a long time. We had some really good at-bats, but the bottom line is we just couldn’t get it done on the mound late.”
Tony Rizzotti, returning from a lowerback strain that kept him out of action since May 3, retired the first six batters before getting into trouble. Southern Miss scored a run and left the bases loaded in the third, then led off the fourth with a double, a single and another double to pull within 5-2.
Rizzotti’s day was done.
“Everything was going real smooth and then all of a sudden a guy hit a line drive up the middle, and I kind of tweaked my back a little bit,” Rizzotti said. “It tightened up after that, and I decided to get out of there before I caused my team any more damage.”
He left that to the bullpen. Southern Miss scored five in the bottom of the fifth while sending 10 men to the plate. After Kyle McKenzie retired one of the five batters he faced in the inning, reliever Andrew Garner allowed a double, a walk and a single as the Golden Eagles took their first lead, 7-6.
Tulane tied it in the sixth and appeared to regain the momentum when David Napoli replaced Garner in the bottom of the inning and induced an inning-ending double play on his first pitch.
But Napoli (4-3), appearing as a reliever for the first time since Feb. 26, hit Tim Lynch to start Southern Miss’s half of the seventh, Bradley Roney followed with a go-ahead double after failing on a bunt attempt, and Blake Brown blasted a two-run home run to straightaway left.
It was the fourth homer in the last five games for Brown, whose 10 long balls match Tulane’s total as a team.
“He (Napoli) hit the leadoff hitter, and then they made the decision to take the bunt off and the guy doubles,” Jones said. “David was just trying to get the ball over. Nine times out of 10 that’s a bunt situation. Hitting the leadoff hitter, that was tough.”
Tulane was sharp early, excelling in areas it has struggled for most of the year. Cannizaro drove in two runs with a two-out single in the first. The Green Wave executed the hit-and-run perfectly twice. Catcher Cameron Burns laid down a nice bunt on a safety squeeze that scored Bowen Woodson in the fourth.
Freshman rightfielder Tim Yandel had three hits in his first three at-bats, equaling his output for all of May when Jones started him in a surprise move. Batting .216 entering the tournament, had lost his spot in the lineup to Nick DiMaggio in April.
Yandel’s third hit, a double, gave Tulane a 6-2 lead in the fifth.
“I felt like we were going to blow them out of the water,” Yandel said.
Instead, they took on water, failing to score in the final three innings against Southern Miss relievers Jay Myrick (4-0) and Nick Johnson, who earned his first save.
“From the third inning, you could tell it would be one of those games where whoever kept scoring was going to win,” Cannizaro said. “We jumped on them early and we didn’t let up, but they were able to string together a few big innings that really hurt us in the end.”