A viewing party at the Glazer Family Club inside Yulman Stadium erupted in cheers at 11:18 a.m. Monday.
That was the precise moment the Tulane baseball team learned it would play in the postseason for the first time in seven years.
The Green Wave popped up as the No. 3 seed in the Baton Rouge regional as the brackets were revealed, ending three days of nail-biting after an early exit in the American Athletic Conference tournament.
“This is the first step of rebuilding Tulane baseball the way we want it,” first-year coach David Pierce said as he addressed fans and reporters. “I think we have a shot as well as anybody to go into a regional and shock the hell out of the world.”
Tulane’s six-year regional drought was a shock to the system for a program that played in the postseason for 13 of the previous 16 seasons, reaching the College World Series in 2001 and ’05 under former coach Rick Jones. Inheriting a team that finished 23-29 in 2014, Pierce guided the Wave to a tie for third place in the AAC, the third-toughest league in the nation in terms of RPI.
Still, the Wave was not totally comfortable until its name popped up on the screen. Tulane (34-23) will face No. 2 seed UNC-Wilmington (39-16) at 7 p.m. Friday at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium following the opener between the No. 1 Tigers and No. 4 Lehigh.
“There aren’t many times in life you get that butterfly feeling in your stomach,” first baseman Garrett Deschamp said. “To see our name on that board, it was just awesome. Being a senior, I’ll never have this opportunity again. I’ll be thinking about this for 20 to 30 years. It’s a great feeling just talking about it now. I’m ready to play.”
Making a regional is old hat for Pierce, who is 15-for-15 in reaching the postseason since become an assistant coach at Houston in 2001. The streak includes a long stint as an assistant at Rice and three years as the coach at Sam Houston State before he took the Tulane job.
“I really expected to be in a regional this year,” he said. “Just a lot of those (past) experiences I’ve been able to convey to the team, and they’ve really done a good job of handling it. The fans are starting to get a little excitement going again. It’s great for our city. We just couldn’t be happier to be given another opportunity to go compete in a regional.”
No one took Tulane’s back-to-back excruciating losses at the AAC tournament harder than sophomore shortstop Stephen Alemais, who leads the team in runs (40) and batting average (.314). When the Wave fell 3-1 to East Carolina on Thursday after the would-be tying run was thrown out at the plate twice in the eighth inning, he sat expressionless against a railing in the dugout for 10 minutes after the game.
When UConn rallied for five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to beat Tulane 7-6 on Friday, he said it was the most difficult defeat he had experienced in college.
Monday’s announcement wiped away that pain. The UNC-Wilmington game will be a rematch of a contest Tulane won 8-4 on the road on March 31.
“This is what it’s all about,” Alemais said “This is why we go to Tulane — to get a postseason berth. To do it for the first time in seven years, it’s a great feeling for us. This is the right time to get hot and start swinging the bats.”
Tulane was not one of the last four teams in the field, but it was the last of four teams from the AAC to learn its fate. East Carolina earned an automatic bid as tournament champion. Houston was announced as a regional host Sunday night. South Florida got in as a No. 3 seed just before the selection show went to a commercial break.
“It made me feel a little bit more reassured because I thought our résumé was better than theirs,” Pierce said of South Florida.
Tulane, which played in LSU’s regional five times from 1994-2003, has not been back in Baton Rouge for the postseason since then. The Wave welcomes the challenge.
“It’s exciting,” Deschamp said. “It’s the best place in college baseball to play. Hopefully we can beat Wilmington and get to play LSU in front of their fans.”