One strike away from losing in Hammond last February, Tulane rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth inning to beat Southeastern Louisiana 5-4.
Two months later, the Green Wave did it again at Turchin Stadium, getting a game-winning two-run homer with two outs and two strikes in the 10th to win by the same score.
It is no stretch to argue those dramatic comebacks were the reason Tulane snapped a six-year regional drought while Southeastern Louisiana was left home for the postseason.
When the two teams meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Alumni Field, they will have that recent history on their minds.
“(Tulane’s win in Hammond) set the tone for sure,” said Tulane right fielder Lex Kaplan, who hit the game-winning double that landed just inside the left-field line. “They are always a good team and have good players. It’s fun playing those guys. We just need to come out tomorrow with the same attitude we’ve always had playing them.”
Tulane finished 35-25 in its first season under coach David Pierce — good enough in the highly rated American Athletic Conference to earn a No. 3 seed in the Baton Rouge regional.
Southeastern won the Southland Conference regular-season championship, going 42-17, but it did not make the cut after crashing early in the league tournament. The Lions were hoping for the first back-to-back regional appearances in school history.
“Our conference RPI unfortunately wasn’t very high,” coach Matt Riser said. “When you’re a mid-major like we are, all these games are very crucial. We need quality wins to help our RPI, and Tulane fits right into that mold. It will be a great test for us.”
Riser noted that Tulane used weekend starters Emerson Gibbs and Corey Merrill, plus closer Ian Gibaut, in the last game a year ago, indicating the importance of the outcome.
Wednesday’s result could be just as significant, because both teams are scuffling early with matching 4-3 records.
The Wave dropped two of three over the weekend at the Tony Gwynn Classic in San Diego. The hitters raised their batting average nearly 30 points to .283 while launching six home runs, but the starting pitchers surrendered 17 runs in 13 innings, just one week after they tossed 19.1 shutout innings against Illinois.
Judging that reversal of fortune is a matter of perspective.
“It’s very encouraging because we know our pitchers are going to revert back to the mean, which is a whole lot better than what they were over the weekend,” said second baseman Jake Willsey, who had three of the six home runs. “The fact that our hitting was so consistent over the weekend was a great sign going forward.”
The Lions lost a home series to Troy, producing a total of three runs in the first two games but salvaging the finale 7-2 after falling behind 2-0.
Riser hopes their dormant bats woke up in that victory, something Pierce expects.
“Southeastern is probably a better team this year than they were last year,” he said. “Their staff seems to be really pitching well. We know they are going to play hard. It’s going to be a very competitive game.”
Tulane freshman left-hander Ross Massey (1-0), who has appeared in relief three times, will get his first start in place of normal midweek starter Patrick Duester, who has walked nine in 4.1 innings.
“Ross doesn’t get caught up in the moment,” Pierce said. “He has a great arm, he’s got good stuff and he’s got a good demeanor.”
Southeastern will counter with senior righty Pat Cashman (1-0), who went 0-2 against Tulane last year, losing in relief in Hammond and getting shelled as a starter in a 15-2 defeat at Turchin Stadium that happened in between the nail-biters.
Pitching in all three games, Cashman gave up nine runs in eight innings, and he is coming off a shaky start against Alcorn State when he allowed three runs in the first inning and left after three.
“We’ve challenged him,” Riser said. “He didn’t look great last week and got roughed up pretty good by Tulane (a year ago), but we know what he is capable of. The ability’s there, and he wants the baseball. Now it’s time to back it up.”