Garrett Deschamp woke up just in time to revive Tulane’s regional hopes.
The next step for the Green Wave is taking the momentum he created in Memphis, Tennessee, and carrying it to Clearwater, Florida, for the American Athletic Conference tournament, where Tulane (33-21) can secure its first NCAA baseball tournament bid in seven seasons.
Deschamp, a senior first baseman who was hitting .191, erupted for five hits in six at-bats with five RBIs as Tulane swept a doubleheader from Memphis on Saturday and climbed onto the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble in just about every projection. To stay there, the third-seeded Wave may need to win a game or two at Bright House Field, starting with Wednesday’s 2 p.m. opener against No. 6 seed Connecticut (33-23).
“(Tulane is) one of the teams that would be in jeopardy if they struggle this week,” said Mark Etheridge of D1Baseball.com. “Inside the American, I think Houston, East Carolina, South Florida and Tulane are all in right now with Connecticut, Memphis and UCF needing a big week to earn a bid. If one does, it will hurt teams like South Florida and Tulane and other teams just inside the bubble.”
The Wave would be in a much worse position without Deschamp’s dramatics. Tulane was on the verge of dropping a must-win series, trailing 2-0, when he led off the fifth inning in Saturday’s seven-inning doubleheader opener.
He blasted a home run to cut the deficit to 2-1, then hit a two-run double in the sixth as Tulane rallied to win 5-2. He had a single and another two-run double in the second game as the Wave won 9-1, clinching the series and a tie for third in the AAC.
“I remember walking back from touching the plate after the home run, and the entire team was just fired up,” Deschamp said. “To be honest, right before that, we were kind of flat. To be that spark for the team, which I haven’t been able to do, was the most important thing.”
Deschamp led Tulane with 32 RBIs last season while hitting .266 after transferring from LSU-Eunice. Until Saturday, he had driven in 14 runs through 48 games.
“I just never found a groove,” he said. “I was hitting the ball hard sporadically, and I was striking out more than I should. It might have been pressing a little, but as long as I’m coming around now, that’s all that matters.”
If Tulane continues to hit like it did in Memphis, its regional dreams should become a reality. The 14-run outburst in the past 12 innings came from a team that still ranks last in the AAC in runs during conference play.
Before then, the Wave found other ways to win. Tied for 230th nationally in runs with 233, it is the only team outside the top 200 under consideration for an at-large bid, relying on its conference-leading fielding percentage and third-place ERA under first-year coach David Pierce.
Heading into the AAC tournament, Tulane appears to have checked all of the regional-worthy boxes. It is the third seed in the third-best RPI league. It has an RPI in the top 40 and played the 40th toughest schedule of 301 Division I teams. It is 9-11 versus top-50 RPI opponents and 18-16 against the top 100, better than most teams on the bubble. It won four of its last five series.
“I do like our position,” Pierce said. “I’m not comfortable yet, but we’ve definitely earned the right to be in the talk and have the opportunity (to play in a regional), in my opinion. We’re playing our best baseball now.”
It’s not just his opinion.
“Certainly, winning a couple of games in the conference tournament could remove any doubt, but Tulane is very likely to be in regardless of what happens,” said Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball.com. “It’s pretty clear that David Pierce is a really, really good coach who gets the most out of his clubs. This is not an exceptionally talented team, and I think he’s gotten this group to exceed everyone’s expectations. I certainly did not expect Tulane to be a regional team, and it looks like it will be one.”
The AAC tournament has two four-team brackets, with double elimination on each side. The winners of each bracket play Sunday for the championship. The Tulane-UConn winner will play Thursday at 6 p.m. against the winner of Wednesday’s early game between No. 2 seed East Carolina and No. 7 UCF. The losers will play Thursday at 10 a.m. … Tulane will start junior right-hander Patrick Duester (6-5, 2.58 ERA) opposite UConn righty Andrew Zapata (5-0, 4.24). Both are midweek starters.