If no one else on the Tulane baseball team would admit to being nervous earlier this week, new coach Travis Jewett did it for them.
As the season opener against Army on Friday night at Turchin Stadium approached, Jewett wanted them realize those feelings were normal.
“I told them I’m not scared, but nervous,” he said. “Any time there’s an outcome where somebody is going to win or lose, that makes you nervous, but you’re also excited.”
Tulane has plenty to play for coming off its first 40-win season since 2006 and first conference championship since 2005. Everyone wants to make a good initial impression in what they hope will be a special season.
“I just want the kids to get their butterflies into formation so that we can come out here, take a deep breath, be in control of our emotions and say we’ve trained well,” Jewett said. “We’re ready for this moment. Just like in a classroom setting, we’ve studied for a while and now we have to take a test. Hopefully, we’ll score well.”
Tulane should have plenty of advantages on Army, which will play Air Force at noon at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge before heading to New Orleans. The Black Knights went 16-32 last year, finishing with an RPI of 255 before hiring a new coach, Jim Foster, in June.
The Green Wave counters with upperclassmen at seven of the nine spots in the batting order and an experienced weekend rotation, beginning with Friday starter Corey Merrill. It will the third consecutive opening-day start for him, with 2014 opening-day starter J.P France going against Air Force on Saturday and second-team 2016 All-American Athletic Conference selection Ross Massey facing Army on Sunday.
“Everyone really knows what they’re doing and their role,” senior Lex Kaplan said. “It’s nice having more mature guys instead of a bunch of freshmen like my freshman year. It should help us for sure. We’re very talented. We have a chance to do big things this year.”
Tulane’s Friday lineup will have sophomore Grant Witherspoon in left field, Kaplan in center, senior Jarret DeHart in left, senior Jeremy Montalbano at catcher, senior Hunter Williams at first base, senior Jake Willsey at second base, freshman Sal Gozzo at shortstop, senior Hunter Hope at third base and junior Matt Rowland at designated hitter.
The group has combined for 698 starts at Tulane, giving Jewett plenty to work with as he tries to improve on the back-to-back regional appearances the Wave made under former coach David Pierce. Look for some fundamental differences in Jewett’s approach from the last two years, when Tulane often swung for the fences with abandon and little recourse if that approach failed.
“I tell them all the time we want to be chameleon-like,” he said. “We’re going to force some offense and find ways to create first. You might see guys in the lineup from 1 to 9 that maybe you’ve not seen bunt that might bunt, that might slash and run. We’ll be aggressive.”