Shortstop Stephen Alemais dreaded what he knew would be a long weekend of anxiety after Tulane was eliminated from the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament Friday.
Needing two victories in Clearwater, Florida, to feel secure about its first NCAA regional bid in seven years, the Green Wave (34-23) managed only one before suffering a pair of excruciating losses to East Carolina and Connecticut. The back-to-back defeats left Tulane squarely on the bubble as the Wave returned to New Orleans and waited for Monday’s selection show at 11 a.m. on ESPNU.
“It’s going to be tough,” Alemais said. “Hopefully we make it. We’re going to prepare and keep working as if we made it.”
If the selection committee relies strictly on the RPI to fill the at-large spots, Tulane will squeak in as one of the last five teams in the 64-team field. First-year coach David Pierce noted some other pluses about the Wave’s résumé, too.
“We’ve been great against the top 100, and we’ve taken care of the people we were supposed to beat,” he said. “We’ve beaten some very good teams, and we’ve played really well down the stretch.”
Pierce has been in this position before and always received good news. In each of his three seasons as coach at Sam Houston State, the Bearkats exited the Southland Conference tournament early but still received at-large bids to regionals. In 2013 and 2014, they won their opener in the conference tournament before dropping two straight, just like Tulane.
The Wave has plenty of positives to tout when stating its case for inclusion:
Tulane won four of its last five AAC series, rising to a tie for third place with South Florida in the nation’s third-toughest league according to the RPI. The leagues rated higher than the AAC — the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference — are expected to garner at least seven bids.
Tulane was 19-18 against teams in the top 100 of the RPI, a better winning percentage than most of the teams competing with it for the last handful of at-large spots. Kentucky, another bubble team, was 13-21; Ohio State, which was one spot ahead of Tulane in the RPI as of Sunday afternoon, was 11-17.
Tulane’s schedule strength ranks 36th nationally, according to WarrenNolan.com — far better than Southland regular-season champion Southeastern Louisiana (154th), a bubble team that lost all three of its meetings with the Wave.
Tulane closer Corey Merrill, disappointed about giving up four runs in the eighth inning of UConn’s 7-6 elimination-game victory, expects to pitch again this year.
“We still have some baseball left,” he said. “I think we’re going to be in a regional. We’re planning to be playing Friday.”
When South Florida exited the tournament a few hours before Tulane, coach Mark Kingston labeled the Bulls the third-best team in the AAC and said the league was too good to get only two teams in the NCAA field.
Pierce chose not to politic as hard as Kingston did, but Tulane has a pretty good case side-by-side with USF, despite the Bulls’ higher RPI of 33. The Wave won two of three from the Bulls at Turchin Stadium from May 8-10. USF was well under .500 (15-21) against top-100 RPI opponents while having the same number of top-50 victories (eight) as Tulane. The Bulls also dropped four of their last five series.
Considering those factors, it might be hard for the committee to take USF and omit Tulane.
If the Wave falls short, Pierce sad he had no regrets about the way his team played in Clearwater. He was particularly proud of the effort Friday without second baseman Jake Willsey, who was suspended four games after bumping the home-plate umpire after his ejection Thursday against East Carolina.
Willsey’s absence forced Pierce to shift Garrett Deschamp to second from first, move Tyler Wilson to first from third, and insert Hunter Hope into the lineup at third.
Tulane did not commit an error in the game. Hope had three hits, two doubles and two RBIs as the Wave took a commanding 6-2 lead before UConn capped a five-run eighth-inning rally with a home run.
“They did exactly what they were supposed to do,” Pierce said. “They came out and fought hard, and we were in position to win the game. But the other team fought hard, too, we had some (bad) breaks and a big blow.”