Tulane cruises past UNO 9-0 at Maestri Field _lowres

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- Tulane's Stephen Alemais connects for a fourth-inning single during a game against UNO at Maestri Field.

While most teams across the country are preparing for a conference weekend, Tulane is traveling across the country.

Because of a scheduling issue within the American Athletic Conference dating to last fall, the Green Wave (16-5) is headed to California for a three-game series against UC-Riverside, starting at 8 p.m. Friday.

“It’s kind of unfortunate the way that this weekend was set up,” Tulane first year-coach David Pierce said. “This weekend was actually opened because the American conference had it open for the whole league, so we were planning for a (conference) series as soon as this fall. So we thought someone was coming our way, and instead it didn’t work out and we had to scramble and find something that worked.”

Of all the teams available at the relatively late date of the schedule opening, the Highlanders (8-12) were the top-rated club that also shared an opening on this weekend, so Pierce reached out to UC Riverside.

He assumed its No. 81 RPI last year would cause the least damage to a carefully calibrated nonconference schedule aimed at returning Tulane to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

To add to the complications, he had to exchange the home weekend for a road weekend and get it approved by the Green Wave administration, which was already paying for a West Coast trip earlier in the season. Tulane opened the year by winning two of three games against Pepperdine in Malibu, a series scheduled years in advance.

“We thought (UC Riverside) was coming our way at first, but they just couldn’t,” Pierce said. “So we had to get permission to go out there twice and we have great support from our department, which allowed us to do that because a lot of places would’ve made us find another game.”

But because the Highlanders have begun the season 8-12 — their RPI has crashed to No. 233, according to WarrenNolan.com — the series may have lost some of its upside.

Still, it provides an opportunity for Tulane build upon its four-game winning streak, which began with a weekend sweep of Xavier and continued with a 15-2 victory over Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday night.

Featuring the nation’s lowest pitching staff ERA at 1.57 — thanks in part to an NCAA-best six shutouts — the Green Wave has been waiting on its bats to catch up to its arms. After scoring 25 runs in the past two games, it appears the sides are beginning to even out, one week before Tulane opens its first conference slate in the American.

“We know what our pitchers are doing has really been incredible this year and we’ve needed to match it,” said shortstop Stephen Alemais, who leads Tulane with a .349 batting average at the top of the order. “I don’t think we are doing anything differently than we were before, but our at-bats have been better and we’re finally starting to see the results.”

Despite the recent offensive outburst, Pierce said he’s still relying on pitching and defense to carry it — especially on the road against an unfamiliar opponent.

Tulane will begin the weekend with sophomore ace Corey Merrill (1-1, 1.38) before turning to Emerson Gibbs (2-0, 0.69) and Tim Yandel (2-0, 1.65) to close it out.

“Hitting is going to come and go for this team and I have faith in our guys, but scoring the way we have the past two games isn’t something we can count on,” Pierce said. “We have to be able to pitch and play defense every day, because that’s what is going to give us a chance to win every game. And we have been able to win some games when we didn’t hit very well, because, for the most part, we’ve pitched and played defense all year.”