Life on the bubble is a stressful one.
Tulane baseball coach David Pierce knows one wrong move or one bad hop can burst the Green Wave’s chance to snap the program’s six-year NCAA tournament drought.
With seven games remaining, Tulane (29-18, 9-9 American Athletic Conference) currently sits among the “last five out” according to D1baseball.com projections, with an opportunity to vault into a secure at-large berth.
“It’s just the position we are in, and we have a set of areas to focus on, but we try to not look at the bubble for what it is,” Pierce said. “But we know what we have to do.”
Starting with this weekend’s series against South Florida, which begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Turchin Stadium, the Green Wave’s path to the postseason is obvious. The Bulls (29-19-1, 10-8), who occupy one of the “last five in” designations and sit one game ahead of Tulane in the American standings, are an opponent Tulane likely needs to leap.
Next week, the path is similar. The Green Wave hosts its final midweek game of the year against Southern Miss, then travels to Memphis — currently projected as a No. 3 seed — for the last three regular-season games of the year.
Put very simply, Tulane needs to win to get in.
“There’s something fun about knowing what we have to do,” sophomore shortstop Stephen Alemais said. “Early in the year you know each game is important, but it all comes down to the end and it’s been cool to kind of talk around the clubhouse about what we have to do and when we have to do it, because our goal is so clear.
“We just need to focus in on it and play our best and take it as a challenge rather than get nervous about it. What we need to do is right in front of us. We just have to do it.”
Last weekend, Tulane was on the cusp of putting itself on an inside track to the postseason, taking a tight 3-1 victory in the opening game against Houston (RPI No. 17) with a pair of chances to win a crucial series. But then the Green Wave’s offense fell apart.
Tulane went 17 consecutive innings without scoring a run, dropping back-to-back games and falling on the wrong side of the bubble.
“It definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth to have those two opportunities and not be able to get it done — and to not be able to score at all makes it worse,” Pierce said. “We sat down as a team and just went through a series of items and places where we need to focus and improve.
“We also let them know what’s at stake. They should be aware what the possibilities are and what we can do best to turn things around.”
The most obvious place to look is at the plate. Tulane’s pitching has long been among the league’s best, and it now boasts the best fielding percentage (.974) in the conference as well.
But outside of a sweep at lowly Cincinnati, the Green Wave has eclipsed three runs just four times in conference play and has been shut out in four games.
“It’s not a matter of nerves or the moment being too big for us, I really don’t think,” Alemais said. “I just think we have faced some really good pitching and we need to change our approach a bit and look for some more fastballs early in the count and try to avoid getting into a hole and forcing ourselves to reach for a breaking ball out of the zone.
“We need to be able to be more selective. That’s important for us. Whenever we have been able to do that this year, we have been able to score and our pitching is good enough that when our offense is working we are winning games. But we need to be more consistent and we don’t have a lot of games left to do it.”