The schedule is not getting any easier for the Tulane baseball team.
Fresh off an emotional series win against East Carolina, the Green Wave (21-10) plays Louisiana-Lafayette (21-11) at 6 p.m. Tuesday at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field in Lafayette. Standing in the way of a home-and-home sweep is Cajuns right-hander Evan Guillory, who tossed a one-hitter last Tuesday against Northwestern State.
Tulane beat Louisiana-Lafayette 5-3 on March 8 at Turchin Stadium, scoring all five of its runs after the fifth inning and getting a pair of two-run homers from Lex Kaplan and Jeremy Montalbano. It was a familiar formula for the Wave, which has hit 32 home runs through 31 games while allowing only seven.
Guillory (2-3, 3.05 ERA) was on cruise control that night, too, allowing only three hits and retiring 12 in a row before walking Montalbano with two outs in the sixth. Kaplan then unloaded on a two-strike pitch, and Tulane had its way with relievers Jevin Huval and Eric Carter in the next two innings.
“(Guillory) really commands the slider and knows how to pitch,” Tulane coach David Pierce said. “It’s a tribute to (Cajuns coach) Tony Robichaux because they seem to have guys that just follow that suit over and over.”
Sophomore J.P. France (2-0, 3.45) will make his sixth consecutive midweek start for Tulane.
Pierce was not around the last time Tulane traveled to Lafayette in 2014, but six players in his lineup started in a 16-0 debacle that was the worst loss in series history. Kaplan, Stephen Alemais, Hunter Hope, Jake Rogers, Jake Willsey and Richard Carthon combined to go 3-for-16 while the Cajuns pounded 22 hits — the most against the Wave since 2002 — and scored in all but the seventh inning.
“Like Pedro Martinez said, I don’t want to lose and I don’t want to look bad,” Pierce said. “We want to make sure that we go in there and perform well.”
On that night in 2014, Louisiana-Lafayette improved to 27-3 while Tulane fell to 13-14. This time, the teams’ records are almost identical. The Wave entered the D1Baseball.com rankings at No. 22 on Monday and bears no similarities to the team that got blown out two years ago.
“I wouldn’t call it swagger,” Alemais said. “I would call it more confidence. We’ve been together for three years, and we know we’re good. We’re going to go out there and play with arrogance but at the same time be humble.”
They also have a new hot bat. First baseman Hunter Williams, who missed 22 consecutive games with a hand injury he suffered in February, had four hits and five RBIs over the weekend against East Carolina, including a game-winning three-run homer Friday.
“I’m catching some breaks, and balls are finding holes,” Williams said. “That’s nice. I’ve been sitting over here wanting to come back and play. It’s a good feeling to get back out there and start seeing some results and helping the team win. It’s coming back pretty quickly.”
That’s an understatement. Williams batted eighth Friday, moved up to seventh Saturday and Sunday and may be close to returning to the No. 5 spot he occupied at the end of 2015, when he led the team in RBIs.
“He’s such a determined player,” Pierce said. “He’d been foaming at the mouth to get back in there. It’s real exciting to see him back on the field.”
With most American Athletic Conference teams struggling — the league went 1-8 last week in nonconference games — Tulane’s best chances for key RPI victories the rest of the way will come out of the AAC. The Cajuns are 23rd in the RPI, according to WarrenNolan.com. The Wave hosts No. 15 Southern Miss next Tuesday and No. 19 LSU the following Tuesday after beating both of them away from home.
“It’s mid-April, and every game has a little more meaning to it,” Pierce said. “We’re going to play the same way we play every single game, and that’s to give our best effort. It will be a challenge in a tough environment, and that’s what we want.”