Lex Kaplan couldn’t have planned it any better.
For weeks, Tulane’s outfielder pictured how Monday afternoon’s celebration would unfold and then what Friday afternoon’s NCAA tournament debut would look like.
“We wanted to be in Alex Box (Stadium),” Kaplan said. “We want the challenge, and I’m happy to get to LSU and show them that we are capable of doing some damage there.”
While the Green Wave (34-23) won’t see No. 1 seed LSU until Saturday, if at all, in the Baton Rouge regional, just the path through the school’s oldest rival and the state’s standard-bearer is an opportunity many Tulane players relish.
But before the No. 3 seed Tulane can try to reignite the recently-lopsided rivalry, it will need to get past second-seeded UNC-Wilmington (39-15) at 7 p.m. on Friday night. Considering the Green Wave hasn’t won a game at Alex Box Stadium since an 8-3 victory over LSU in 2007, it’s not as if there’s trend of success in the state capital for Tulane.
Still, Kaplan remembers attending NCAA tournament games between the Tulane and LSU when his brother Jonny roamed the Green Wave’s center field during the rivalry’s heyday at the turn of the century. Now, it’s his team’s responsibility to get it back to that place.
“We know what it means to our fans and our program to get back there with those guys,” Kaplan said. “It’s good to be back in the tournament, but now it’s a new season. We need to play the way that got us here, and we can’t think too much about what it means or let their fans and them get a hold of us.
“We just need to maintain our approach and have confidence. There are going to be 10,000 or so fans there yelling against us and I know it’s crazy during the regionals, but we need to just stay relaxed and we know exactly what we have to do.”
Pair to miss time
Tulane will be slightly short-handed when it arrives for its first NCAA tournament since 2008.
Starting second baseman Jake Willsey and assistant coach Sean Allen will both miss time because of incidents with the home plate umpire during the Green Wave’s 4-1 loss to East Carolina in last weekend’s American Athletic Conference tournament.
Starting Friday, Willsey will serve the second of his four game suspension. Allen is serving his third suspension of the season because of an in-game ejection and he will return if Tulane plays a third game of the regional.
Without Willsey (.263 batting average in 39 starts), Tulane coach David Pierce shuffled around his lineup last week, starting typical first baseman Garrett Deschamp at second and moving third baseman Tyler Wilson to first while pulling Hunter Hope off of the bench to man third base.
Friday will mark the second game of the season between Tulane and UNCW.
The Green Wave won an 8-4 midweek contest in Wilmington on March 31 behind starting pitcher Patrick Duester. The Seahawks committed four errors and used five pitchers as five Tulane hitters drove in a run.
“They are a very solid team and we played them on the road,” Pierce said. “It was a Tuesday game so there were Tuesday pitching matchups, but their lineup is very solid. They can hit. Defensively, I think they’re OK, but I know they can swing the bats and their weekend (pitchers) are going to be pretty good.”
LSU will make a limited number of tickets available to Tulane, which will divvy them up according to priority.
Top priority belongs to season ticket holders who donate to the Tulane Athletic Fund, then it will give TAF donors who do not have season tickets an opportunity to purchase, followed by the general public if any tickets remain.
Regional books cost either $50 or $75 and include individual tickets for each of the tournament’s seven games this weekend.