Facing its first postseason game since 2008, Tulane has gotten hot at the plate at the perfect time.
Shut out on seven occasions this season, the Green Wave (34-23) finally is emerging from a hitting slump that lasted the better part of two years, providing a jolt of confidence for its Baton Rouge regional opener against UNC Wilmington (39-16) at 7 p.m. Friday.
The winner of that game plays the winner of the early game between No. 1 LSU and Lehigh on Saturday night.
“It’s great to be hot toward the end of the season,” said outfielder Richard Carthon, who is batting .344 with eight RBIs in his last 10 games after hitting .231 with 11 RBIs in 46 games to that point. “If a team’s been hot all year and then gets cold in the playoffs, it doesn’t really do them much justice. I’d rather be hot right now. I hope we stay hot.”
The recovery really started in a regular-season ending doubleheader at Memphis. Needing a sweep to bolster its hopes for at-large bid, Tulane scored five runs in the last three innings of the first game and added nine more in the second game.
The hitting held up at the AAC tournament even if the scoreboard did not always show it. Tulane had 10 hits in its opening 3-1 victory against UConn, produced three hits off of normally untouchable East Carolina closer Joe Ingle (0.88 ERA) in the second game and scored six times in a rematch with the Huskies last Friday.
The Wave, which was hovering around the .240s at the end of April, is batting .313 in its last five games. Infielder Garrett Deschamp, formerly below .200, is 8 for his last 15. Hunter Williams (.400) and Tyler Wilson (.325) also are well above .300 in the last 10 games for a team with only one hitter, shortstop Stephen Alemais, higher than .281 for the year (.314).
“We’re swinging the bats as well as we’ve swung it all year, and we’re swinging it with confidence,” coach David Pierce said. “I’d like to see us execute a little bit better in some of our hit and run and slash plays. Maybe it will all come together in one weekend.”
The matchup against UNC Wilmington appears favorable. Tulane will throw Patrick Duester (7-5, 2.44) against Seahawks No. 2 starter Ryan Foster (6-1, 4.42), a junior right-hander who allowed five runs in 3.1 innings of his last start in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
He has given up 93 hits in 79.1 innings this season.
Duester, formerly a midweek starter, held UConn to one run in seven innings at the AAC tournament.
“I feel confident in our pitchers and especially our defense,” Deschamp said. “The way we’re swinging the bat, if we can hold them to one or two runs, we definitely are going to have a good chance to come of there on top.”
The players credit an improved attitude for the resurgence. Tulane, which was coming off a season in which it set 40-year lows for batting average (.226) and runs (176 in 52 games), needed to forget about numbers.
“It just comes down to believing in yourself and also just doing it for the guys in the dugout,” Carthon said. “Coach (Pierce) said stats don’t really matter right now; it’s about helping the team win. I bought into helping the team win.”
UNC Wilmington’s numbers at the plate still dwarf Tulane’s. The Seahawks boast the 11th-best batting average in college baseball (.306) and have scored the 12th most runs per game (7.2). Their relatively weak conference accounted for part of that productivity, but they also averaged six runs in 16 games against NCAA regional teams.
Tulane’s best bet will be to get to Foster early. While Seahawks starters have accounted for only 11 of their 39 victories this year, the back end of the bullpen features senior Jordan Ramsey (8-2, 1.60, seven saves).
No one at Tulane shies away from the excitement of a potential winner’s bracket game against LSU in Alex Box Stadium. They also know it is anything but a foregone conclusion.
“We’ve got to do a good job of trying to win the (UNC Wilmington) game before (Foster) gets in,” Pierce said. “You have to understand when you have opportunities, you have to take advantage of it.”
Duester struck out eight and allowed three runs in 5.2 innings in Tulane’s 8-4 victory at UNC Wilmington on March 31. … Pierce said having played already would not be an advantage for either team. … The last time Tulane was in the Baton Rouge regional—2003--it also faced UNC Wilmington in the opener, winning 8-3. … The Seahawks, with an RPI of 27, are 7-9 against teams in the field of 64. The Wave, which has an RPI of 43, is 8-11 versus tourney teams.