David Pierce knows when to pick his spots.
Tulane’s first-year baseball coach has a calculation in his head about when to get involved and when to stay the course.
Last weekend, after the Green Wave was shut out for third time in three weeks, he took the opportunity to meet with his hitters in an attempt to loosen their mentality and bring them out of their funk — on in which Tulane had lost seven of its previous 10 games.
Pierce’s interjection helped spur consecutive wins over East Carolina and Nicholls State, possibly guiding the Green Wave (21-12, 2-4 American Athletic Conference) back onto the path that led to a 16-5 start to the season.
“Coach actually had meeting with about three people at a time to talk about approach and trying to build our confidence,” sophomore outfielder Lex Kaplan said. “I think that helped everybody out. We just got back to going out there and competing and hitting the ball.
“He was just trying to refocus our approach and give us confidence because when we were getting out — (and) a lot of times, we were getting ourselves out. We should be out there playing freely and hitting the ball hard, and I think that message has paid off here.”
The message will face a stern test this weekend when Tulane travels to Houston to take on the Cougars (21-11, 2-4) in a three-game series, starting at 6:30 p.m. Friday. It is the first of two series scheduled between the teams.
Houston will visit New Orleans starting May 1.
By racking up 26 hits in consecutive wins, the Green Wave is starting to display some of its best offense of the season. But for Pierce, too often those spurts of power have been short-circuited by dominant pitching.
That’s part of the reason he and his coaches gathered the position players together last weekend, to keep those dips from extending into weeklong droughts.
“Coach (Sean) Allen does such a good job with our hitters day-to-day but I will insert myself from time to time in order to help either center everybody or just to give out some confidence that one bad game doesn’t need to translate to the next one,” Pierce said. “I just want to free them up. I want to let them know we are not in any way trying to hold them back. Instead, we want them to release what their talents are.
“They keep working really hard and I’m only there to help out every now and again.”
It’s a message he considers particularly important entering a pressure-packed weekend.
Just weeks ago, it appeared this could be one of the premier matchups in the American Athletic Conference, with both teams in the Top 25 and eyeing a spot near the top of the league. Instead, Tulane and Houston are in search of their first series win, with hopes of climbing out of the league’s cellar.
Considering the Cougars began the year ranked No. 9 nationally, fresh off winning the Baton Rouge Regional in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, it’s not like the Green Wave is expecting an easy matchup.
“We know the kind of test we are walking into, and they are just as anxious as us to get their season turned up, and we know what they are capable of,” Sunday starter Alex Massey said. “We are ready for the challenge and we just need to go out and play our best.”
It’s also a meaningful rival for Pierce, who graduated from UH in 1988 and coached in the area (three high school stops and three college jobs) before taking the reins at Tulane this summer. That familiarity has made Houston one of the Green Wave’s primary recruiting grounds.
Tulane already features six Houston-area players on its roster and is likely to add many more in the coming years, making this a weekend important for the Green Wave’s future in many ways.
“It’s a talent-rich area,” Pierce said. “For us to go in and especially play well matters a lot to us, and it’s a great benefit to our players from the area as well as our potential recruits who can get a chance to see us.”