Bullpen brings home win

Head coach Rayner Noble turned closer Chase Dempsay into Sunday’s starter, hoping that the right-hander’s wicked stuff would help the Cougars to their second consecutive win against the Tulane Green Wave.

Instead, another right-hander reliever stole the show, as Jared Ray tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings, striking out seven and allowing only one hit to lead the Cougars to a nail-biting 4-3 victory over the Green Wave at Turchin Stadium in New Orleans.

The Cougars (9-17, 4-2 Conference USA) out-hit the Green Wave 8-6 and used a two-run seventh inning to rally from a 3-2 deficit.

The Cougars took two out of three games in the series, losing 6-2 Friday before winning 4-1 Saturday to make it consecutive conference series wins and six victories in their last nine games.

Dempsay had trouble throwing strikes in the third inning of Sunday’s game, loading the bases and walking in a run in the first inning. This prompted Noble to bring in the hard-throwing Ray, who weaved through Tulane’s potent lineup, retiring 10 consecutive batters during one stretch.

Noble is confident that the sophomore can produce more games like this in the future.

‘He’s starting to come around a little bit,’ Noble said. ‘He’s got tremendous ability and just needs to continue to build confidence, and he’ll be outstanding for us on a consistent basis like he was today.’

After Ray’s day was done, left-hander Donnie Joseph struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to seal the victory.

The Cougars got on the board in the top of the first when Blake Kelso drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second base on Zak Presley’s groundout and scored on Caleb Ramsey’s single to center field. Tulane starter Josh Zeid battled back, retiring the next two batters on a groundout and a fly out to escape further damage.

Tulane (16-11, 1-2 C-USA) answered in the bottom of the inning, when Dempsay had trouble finding the strike zone. Seth Henry singled into right field with one out and advanced to second when Sam Honeck drew a walk. Dempsay loaded the bases by hitting Bellaire product Jeremy Schaffer with a pitch.

Dempsay issued a four-pitch walk to Karl Mundt to score Henry, but right fielder Williams Kankel ended Tulane’s threat with a great defensive play. After catching a Steve Moritz’s fly ball for the second out, Kankel hurled it to home plate to nail Honeck, who had tagged up at third base.

Tulane added two more runs in the bottom of the third. Dempsay walked Henry and gave up a one-out single to Honeck. Schaffer scored Henry with a single through the left side. Mundt followed with a single up the middle that scored Honeck and gave Tulane a 3-1 advantage, prompting Noble to switch to Ray. The move paid off, as Ray struck out Moritz and got Scott Powell to fly out at the warning track in left field to end the inning.

In the sixth, the Cougars cut their deficit to 3-2 when Dempsay, who was moved to designated hitter, led off with a single to right field, advanced to second on Kankel’s groundout and scored, one out later, on Ty Stuckey’s double to center field.

The Cougars tied the game in the seventh when Kelso walked and scored on Ramsey’s double down the left-field line. Ramsey advanced to third on a wild pitch, scoring on Kankel’s single through the right side to give UH a 4-3 lead.

‘We didn’t really sting the ball all that much (on Sunday), but when we needed it, we got (the big hit),’ Noble said. ‘I’m just proud of our guys for the last couple of days because they have competed hard.’

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