Sometimes a worse view makes for a better perspective.
Exiled to watching his team play through a hole in an outfield fence, Tulane baseball coach David Pierce discovered some negative attributes he’d been missing. A postgame ejection April 10 banished him from the dugout for the following day, a Saturday afternoon 6-1 loss at Houston, forcing Tulane’s first-year coach to watch from any angle he could find beyond the stadium’s walls.
And as the lopsided defeat unfolded beyond his control, Pierce knew it was time to address his team. On the heels of losing its fourth consecutive series and seeing its once-promising 16-5 record careen to 21-14, Pierce decided to deliver a swift kick and a wakeup call.
“Anytime you get to see your team from that angle, it does give you a different point of view,” Pierce said. “You can kind of step back and see the whole picture, because you’re not in charge of making decisions, but just observing. So I watched to see how we reacted when we made a mistake and how our body language was slumped and we weren’t picking up pitchers.
“We just weren’t playing the game the right way, and our biggest concentration is always playing hard, and there was a time there where we were getting caught up into looking at the score. We just aren’t good enough to take a play off or take an inning off, so we have to have maximum focus.”
On Sunday morning, he set an 8 a.m. meeting and firmly addressed the team’s sagging body language and on-field attitude. He also sent the Green Wave to run sprints up and down the hotel’s parking lot before boarding busses to the field.
“I just felt like I would be doing the team a disservice if we just showed up at the ballpark and I didn’t let them know we weren’t doing everything to put ourselves in the best position to win,” Pierce said. “I thought the mental side is what we needed to adjust going into that Sunday game.”
Hours later, Tulane left town with a series-salvaging 3-1 win over the Cougars.
Now, less than three weeks later, the Green Wave (28-16, 8-7 American Athletic Conference) is back in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth, having won seven of its past nine games and boosting its RPI up to No. 39. It also improved from dead last place to sitting just a game out of first in the AAC standings (behind a four-team tie at the top).
In that time, Tulane has clawed back from a six-run deficit for the first time in 11 years as part of road sweep in Cincinnati. And Wednesday, despite blowing a ninth-inning lead to Southeastern Louisiana and falling behind in the 10th, Tulane rallied to win on the strength of a walk-off homer by Tyler Wilson.
Now, the Green Wave welcomes those same Cougars (30-15, 9-6) — who prompted the early-morning meeting three weeks ago — to Turchin Stadium for a three-game series starting at 6 p.m. Friday (TV: CBS Sports Network) then continuing Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Several Tulane players pointed to that damp Sunday morning in Houston as the fulcrum of the season; when the skid stopped and Tulane began to position itself for the postseason.
Now, with nine conference games left against three teams tied for first place (Houston, South Florida and Memphis), the Green Wave has a very real chance to snap a six-year postseason drought.
“I won’t forget that Sunday, because it was my birthday and it started by waking up at 7 a.m. and running in the parking lot of the hotel,” sophomore shortstop Stephen Alemais said. “(Pierce) just emphasized playing with pride and to let us know that our talent isn’t going to win these games; we need to give 100 percent.
“I thought it was a real turning point because it also forced us to talk amongst ourselves about how we want to control our own destiny, and it was a real wakeup call. As players, we needed to be aware of it, and I think we’ve used it to our advantage.”