This isn’t the time to educate.
Tulane baseball coach David Pierce said his players already know everything they need to about the postseason scenario they’re in. Whether it’s the RPI, American Athletic Conference standings, record against the Top 100 or the trend line, it’s all been covered by Tulane’s coaching staff in a series of clubhouse meetings held over the past month.
The players know what’s at stake. So, with three games left in the regular season and the NCAA tournament bubble a stark reality, the situation is too obvious to even discuss.
“Right now I don’t have to (say anything) because they know the stakes,” Pierce said. “In the past, I’ve kind of been building them up for this. Right now, they understand the whole picture and it’s going to be an exciting weekend hopefully.”
The series actually begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday when the Green Wave (31-20, 11-10 American) travels to Memphis to open a three-game set against the Tigers (34-17, 11-10) at FexEx Park. Not only is a season’s worth of work on the line, but the potential to snap prolonged tournament droughts — six years for Tulane and seven for Memphis — is also squarely in the crosshairs.
Both teams are knotted in a four-way tie for third place in the conference standings and operating on the fringe of the NCAA tournament projection fields, according to D1Baseball.com. Tulane is currently slated as a No. 3 seed and Memphis (a week after being listed in the field) is considered one of the “first five out” entering the weekend.
Tulane was in a similar position last week, when it vaulted from a team on the brink, to one projected in the tournament by taking two games from South Florida and bouncing the Bulls off of the list of likely participants.
Now Tulane and Memphis face a nearly identical scenario but with less time to regroup from a setback.
“I’m really excited, because it’s like a playoff situation,” sophomore outfielder Lex Kaplan said. “We need to win this series. That’s the bottom line. I think we are going to go out there and do it. We look good offensively and our starting pitching is good, so we just need to be relaxed and not too tense and I think we will be all right.”
This isn’t the first time Tulane has played with its back to the wall this season. After racing out to a 16-5 start and Top 25 record, the Green Wave lost four consecutive series and became an afterthought in any postseason discussion.
But a series win against Central Florida and a sweep at Cincinnati helped push Tulane out of last place and back into the hunt. The path, however, wasn’t clear-cut toward the postseason, as Tulane dropped two home games to Houston and put itself back in jeopardy before rallying with two key wins against USF.
The gray area is all but eliminated now.
If the Green Wave win the series at Memphis, it will have foothold for one of the final at-large spots. If it loses, the uphill climb required in The American tournament next weekend becomes steep.
It doesn’t take a clubhouse meeting to figure it out. The focus is entirely on execution.
“The stakes are clear,” Kaplan said. “Ever since we lost to Houston we knew we had to win the next two weekends for sure. So, we are just going to have to go out there and do it.
“That’s the way I’m looking at it. If we win this series and we do decent in the conference tournament, then I think we will be in there.”