NEW ORLEANS — If the Tulane baseball team breaks out of its season-long hitting funk against Marshall this weekend, senior third baseman Garrett Cannizaro likely will be the catalyst.
Cannizaro, who was batting .207 as recently as April 12, has raised his average to .257 by going 11-for-20 in the Green Wave’s last five games. He remained hot against second-ranked LSU on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge, walking and scoring as Tulane took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning and getting a key single in the eighth to help the Green Wave pull within 4-3 in a rally that fell short.
“I went back and looked at some film and spent a lot of time in the cage just trying to get back to some basic things,” said Cannizaro, who hit .305 as a junior and .322 as a freshman. “I’ve been getting my stride foot down a lot earlier. That’s eliminated the big leg kick I had before. When my foot’s down, I can hit. When it’s not, it’s tough for anybody to hit.”
Cannizaro’s recent streak qualifies as white hot for a group whose leading hitter, Brennan Middleton (.292), is batting 13 points below last year’s team average (.305). The drop-off has been mystifying considering seven players who started at least 30 games in 2012 returned to the lineup.
Tulane (20-21, 5-7 Conference USA) is last by a wide margin in the league in hitting (.233; the next lowest is Southern Miss at .250) and runs (144; the next lowest is UAB at 166).
“We worked extremely hard to be a good offensive team, but not everything goes the way you plan,” Cannizaro said. “You start doing things that you have no idea why or how or when they started.”
Maybe playing pitching-challenged Marshall (15-24, 4-8) will help. The Thundering Herd — which will host the series at Appalachian Power Park, a minor league stadium in Charleston, W.Va. — is second-to-last in the league with a 4.45 ERA. The Herd gave up 10 or more runs in five of six games during a recent stretch.
Tulane — two games ahead of last-place UAB and two games behind third-place Houston — has four weeks to solve its hitting woes before the start of the Conference USA tournament at Rice. The Green Wave’s only route to its first NCAA regional berth in five seasons is to win that event and get an automatic bid.
Coming off a rare open weekend — the first in coach Rick Jones’ 20-year tenure —Tulane will try to start building momentum against Marshall.
“Offensively, we’re a long way off,” Jones said. “We had a week off to catch our breath and regroup. Maybe we can get better on offense. We’re going to try.”
Everything else is in place. Tulane boasts Conference USA’s third-lowest ERA. Freshman closer Ian Gibaut has nine saves, tying for the league lead. And the Wave, which was shaky in the field earlier in the year, has committed only six errors in its last 14 games.
“It’s huge to get hot and get on a roll going into that tournament,” Cannizaro said. “We’re not counting ourselves out at all. As for the hitters, we just need something to spark us.”
They won’t get that spark from senior catcher Blake Crohan, who hurt a knee on April 9 and is out for the foreseeable future. Freshman Cameron Burns, hitting .145, replaced him in the lineup.
“If (Crohan’s) career is not over, I’ll be very pleasantly surprised,” Jones said. “I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, but it would be a very, very big reach to have him back.”