After watching his team get within one strike of beating Tulane on Wednesday before losing, Southeastern Louisiana coach Matt Riser came away impressed.
Coming off its first sub-.500 season in 21 years, the Green Wave (3-1) already is finding ways to win behind new coach David Pierce and a large class of sophomores who learned from their mistakes as freshmen. When Pierce coaches his first game at Turchin Stadium on Friday against San Francisco (0-5) in the opener of a weekend series, his team won’t resemble the one that lost at home almost as often as it won in the last two years of the Rick Jones era.
“That’s a very strong bunch over there, that Tulane crew,” Riser said. “You knew the talent was there last year. It was just a young team, and they’ve grown up a little bit. They did a good job of handling themselves late.”
The turning point at SLU was really, really late. Having blown a 3-0 lead in the seventh on a bases-clearing triple that left fielder Richard Carthon could have caught, the Wave used a two-out, two-strike, redemptive single from Carthon in the top of the ninth to stay alive. Two batters later, Lex Kaplan doubled in Carthon for the go-ahead run in a dramatic 5-4 victory.
Riser knows Pierce well after facing him the past three years in the Southland Conference, when Pierce coached Sam Houston State to three consecutive regular-season titles and NCAA regional berths.
“The guy’s a proven winner,” Riser said. “He’s a champion, and he’s done it at all levels. As an assistant he won a College World Series (with Rice in 2003). At Sam Houston, he ran off the conference three years in a row. You can tell they are a more confident bunch.”
When problems arose during games last year, Tulane seldom found a solution. By then, a disillusioned fan base had stopped going to Turchin Stadium, which usually was more than half-empty.
It could start filling up again quickly if the Wave’s first four games are an accurate gauge of this team’s strengths. Tulane rallied from a 2-0 deficit after five innings to beat Pepperdine in the season opener last Friday, winning 9-3. The Wave trailed 5-0 entering the eighth inning in the second game and rallied to win 9-5.
Wednesday’s win against SLU looked like it would be reversal of form after Tulane lost its 3-0 lead, but Carthon and company handled adversity well again.
“This team’s just real resilient,” Carthon said. “Everybody’s picking each other up. It’s all about just getting the next guy up. Even when someone struggles, guys don’t quit.”
Just about everyone on the team struggled against SLU starting pitcher Domenick Carlini, who struck out 10 of the first 15 batters he faced. Still, the Wave hung in there until Carlini got tired. When he left after walking Carthon and throwing a wild pitch to start the sixth, the Wave promptly scored two runs on a sacrifice fly and a single.
Carthon had gone down swinging the first two times he faced Carlini. Leadoff hitter Garrett Deschamp struck out all three times Carlini pitched to him, and Grant Brown was 0 for 2 with two strikeouts against Carlini.
“A win doesn’t have to be pretty,” Carthon said. “It just shows you have to play nine innings. Even if you’re terrible for the first eight, as long as you finish strong and don’t quit, you have a shot.”
Tulane will go with the same rotation against San Francisco it used against Pepperdine, with Corey Merrill starting Friday, Alex Massey starting Saturday and Tim Yandel pitching Sunday.
San Francisco will counter with right-hander Anthony Shew on Friday and lefties Christian Cecilio and Jeider Rincon for the rest of the weekend. All three of them have earned run averages above 9.00, harkening back to the long-ball era of college baseball.
The 49ers have given up 57 runs through five games and at least nine in all of them, getting swept in a four-game set at Texas Tech and losing at San Jose State on Tuesday.
Still, Tulane is just worrying about itself at the moment, with Pierce setting a positive tone.
If you attended games in recent years, you might not recognize the Wave if you show up at Turchin Stadium this weekend.
“We are establishing that we have to play the entire game,” Pierce said. “If you get down early or get ahead early, you have a tendency to relax or give up. This team hasn’t shown any of that.”