Kaleb Roper struck out nine. (Shotgun Spratling)

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Tulane Begins Its ‘New Season’

At The Ballpark


NEW ORLEANS — In our preview of the American Athletic Conference, Tulane and Cincinnati were our picks to finish in last and next to last. Both programs entered the season going through a transition period. The Green Wave lost multiple weekend starters and five of their top six hitters in Travis Jewett’s second season while Cincinnati entered the Scott Googins era after hiring him away from crosstown rival Xavier.

Despite sub-.500 records heading into conference play, both coaches are optimistic about the future. Googins and his club are still getting to know each other to an extent, but feels confident the group is starting to come into its own.

“They’re still trying to figure out things and playing a little bit more relaxed and playing hard and those type of things, but it’s been a great transition because they’ve got great people here and that’s what it’s all about.”

Jewett is hoping a strenuous non-conference schedule has prepared his team to perform better in tight games.

“Our record, 9-13 or whatever it was, we kind of talked about that being like a spring training,” Jewett said. “Tonight we broke camp and turned it into a new season. Of those 13 losses, I think five of them we had leads in the eighth or ninth inning.

“We had some opportunities to kind of take that four or five games and swing it and I think you’re probably feeling a lot different about who we are right now as a team.”

Tulane took the lessons learned from games against teams such as Ole Miss, LSU, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State and turned it into a conference-opening 5-3 victory Friday night against the Bearcats. The Green Wave scored five runs in the first inning on three hits and then managed only one hit the rest of the game. But their pitching staff made important pitches to get out of jams over and over.

Cincinnati was retired in order only twice. It left a runner on third base in the first inning, two men in the second, the bases loaded in the fifth and most importantly after Manny Rodriguez hit a solo homer to lead off the seventh inning to make it a two-run deficit, the Bearcats worked two walks and got the tying runs in scoring position but couldn’t get them across.

Green Wave relievers Chase Solesky and Connor Pellerin locked down the final six outs in order, but only after a nine-walk performance from the Tulane pitching staff helped give Cincinnati plenty of extra opportunities.

“It’s an issue that we have. We’ve got to just keep coming,” Jewett said. “Those guys are more than capable of throwing strikes, but we keep giving people free things. When you do that and in a large number, then sometimes you put yourself into harm’s way. Tonight we were able to duck and dodge it a little bit and make some pitches when we had to and got a win.”

The Breakdown

Game Changer

The game could have been much different and would have shaped the remainder of the weekend if it weren’t for the fearlessness of Cincinnati left fielder Joey Wiemer.

In the first inning, Tulane batted around, scoring five runs and making only one out the first time through the lineup, but Bearcats starting pitcher JT Perez was able to strike out Tulane’s leading hitter Jonathan Artigues with the bases loaded. He was rewarded with a left-on-left matchup against Grant Witherspoon, Tulane’s best hitter. Witherspoon attacked a 2-1 pitch driving it the other way.

Wiemer, who was shaded toward the gap, got a good jump on the ball, but had to run a long way, tracking the hard fly that was slightly tailing away from him. At the last second, he flashed his glove up to snag the catch before slamming into the wall.

“I think we’re leading the nation on balls hit well to the outfield that don’t find the outfield grass,” Jewett said in disbelief after the game. “I’m hoping some of that baseball stuff will go our way here eventually.”

The web gem kept Tulane from blowing the game open with a potential bases-clearing extra-base hit. It ended the inning, kept the game at 5-0 and allowed Perez to stay in the game as there were relievers warming in the bullpen. Cincinnati’s lefthander settled in afterwards and didn’t allow a hit in the next four innings. That — combined with reliever AJ Kullman facing the minimum over three innings — saved Googins from having to dip deep into his cadre of bullpen arms early in the weekend.

“He’s showed a lot to me tonight because it’s real easy when you’re down five to not only give up on yourself, but on the team, but he kept battling,” Googins said. “He showed a lot of heart and again helped us get through the fifth inning. And being 5-1, 5-2, we’re still right there in the game.”

Star Spotlight

Kaleb Roper has had an up-and-down season thus far, but he was back on the positive side Friday night (with a tinge of the negative too). Roper struck out nine and allowed only four hits in six innings, but he also walked six batters.

“It all starts on the mound,” Jewett said when asked what he’s learned about his team through the non-conference slate. “When we find that we can get somebody to go out there to settle the game and kind of give us the ability to figure out their pitcher and all those types of things, I think we have a chance. Roper gave us that opportunity tonight.”

But Jewett was also concerned about the command issues that plagued Roper and his other pitchers. Roper allowed two runs and both of those were scored by Cincinnati hitters that had reached via a walk.

“I think you and I both know, if that continues to be a part of us,” Jewett said of his team’s nine walks, “then it’ll hurt us in the end. I don’t think it is. We’ve just got to keep coming.”

Top Performances

Cincinnati:

  • Kyle Mottice: 1-4, R, 2B, BB, SB.
  • Joey Thomas: 1-2, 2B, RBI, BB.
  • AJ Kullman: 3 IP, H, 0 R, K.

Tulane:

  • Kaleb Roper: 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 6 BB, 9 K; Win
  • Connor Pellerin: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 2 K; Save
  • Sal Gozzo: 2-R 2B.

In Their Words

Tulane head coach Travis Jewett talks about the Green Wave’s conference-opening 5-3 win over Cincinnati and what he’s learned about his team so far this season. Jewett also discusses walking nine batters and treating the non-conference schedule like a spring training warmup:

First-year Cincinnati head coach Scott Googins talks about the Bearcats’ 5-3 loss to Tulane, which featured them giving up five runs in the first inning and trying to battle back the entire night.

Googins also discusses his transition across town from Xavier to Cincinnati and how he and the players are still learning about each other out a bit as the conference season begins:

Bottom Line

– Scott Googins is still trying to get in a rhythm with his club. “These guys are finding out about me and I’m finding out about them here at UC. I think it’s a good fit,” he said. We have to agree. The Bearcats were already heading in the right direction and should continue be a program on the rise under Googins.

– Tulane is going to be hard pressed to win many games with nine walks. The Green Wave gave away a lot of opportunities, but stater Kaleb Roper and the relievers behind him all were able to minimize damage, never letting Cincinnati score more than a single run in any inning.

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