While Tulane’s long-shot bid to qualify for the Conference USA baseball tournament might come to an end this weekend against Southern Miss, the series represents a definite finishing point in another area.
At least in the foreseeable future, the three-game set at Turchin Stadium will be the last meeting in any team sport for the nearby schools as members of the same conference.
Separated by only 110 miles, Tulane and Southern Miss have competed together since 1982-83, first in the Metro Conference and then in Conference USA. Those days are soon over with the Green Wave’s departure to the American Athletic Conference this summer.
“Going back to my playing days (1999-2001 at Tulane), this is always a weekend that we really look forward to,” interim coach Jake Gautreau said. “Both sides get up for it. We’ve had so many good series going back probably over the last 15 years. We compete on the field and we compete in recruiting, but it’s a very friendly rivalry.”
The closest school to Tulane in the American Athletic Conference, Houston, is more than three times as far away as Southern Miss. The days of being able to drive to and from a road game without staying overnight — as a large contingent of Southern Miss fans did for the Golden Eagles’ C-USA basketball title-clinching win against Tulane this past March — are over.
Those USM supporters turned Devlin Fieldhouse into a raucous environment, even unfurling a large banner in the stands as the Golden Eagles pulled away to a 68-51 victory in what was the final C-USA basketball matchup between the teams.
“One of the many consequences of conference realignment has been the demise of historic rivalries to the detriment of student-athletes, coaches and fans,” Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson said. “We will work on opportunities to preserve those rivalries in the future.”
Citing the atmosphere at the home finale against USM, Tulane basketball coach Ed Conroy said he would consider playing the Golden Eagles out of conference. The teams have played in hoops every year since 1971.
“I haven’t written off the possibility of playing anybody close,” Conroy said. “We all have to see what the parameters end up being in our new league on scheduling. Any rivalries that we can develop would be good for our program.”
The rivalry has meant different things in the big three sports.
In baseball, Tulane leads the series 91-56. The Wave won nine of 10 series from 2000 to 2009. The Golden Eagles have fared better since 2009, when they became the last C-USA team to reach the College World Series.
Tulane has won only five of their last 14 meetings.
One victory stood out for Gautreau, though. In 2011, Tulane won a wild contest in Hattiesburg, 16-15 in 10 innings. The teams combined for 38 hits, seven doubles and five home runs.
“It was a very heated game,” he said. “Both sides were getting after it all game long. Emotions were high, and we found a way to come away that day with the ‘W.’ It was a fun game to be a part of because guys were fighting for their lives.”
Tulane leads the basketball series 40-37, but Southern Miss won the last nine meetings and 12 of the last 13, including a pair of routs this season.
The football teams already have become strangers, courtesy of C-USA splitting into two divisions in 2007, With Tulane in the West and Southern Miss in the East, their last game came in 2010.
Until that point, the Golden Eagles served as a litmus test for Tulane’s strength. Although Tulane lost 11 of their 13 C-USA matchups, it beat Southern Miss the two years it reached bowl games.
The Wave won 21-7 at the Superdome during its undefeated 1998 season, with the defense coming up huge while star quarterback Shaun King played despite having a broken left wrist.
The Wave won 31-10 in the 2002 regular-season finale at the Superdome, clinching a bowl berth as Mewelde Moore rushed for 136 yards and caught five passes for another 58 yards.
The last game was a 46-30 USM victory in the Superdome after Tulane led 30-27 late in the third quarter. The Golden Eagles scored their final nine points on a safety and a fumble return, improving to 23-7 in the series.
Tulane’s baseball team will try to write a positive final chapter to the C-USA history between the two schools.
The Green Wave (18-24, 6-13) is four games out of the eighth and final spot in the league tournament with three weekend series left. Second-place Southern Miss (27-19, 14-7) can pull within a game of C-USA leader Rice by sweeping Tulane.
“Coming out of high school, that was one of the places I considered going,” said Tulane’s Saturday starter, right-hander Randy LeBlanc, a fourth-year junior who will pitch against Southern Miss for the first time. “It’s just a good conference rivalry. Hopefully it will be fun.”