The Tulane baseball team’s chance to host a regional ended when Houston eliminated it from the American Athletic Conference tournament on Saturday morning, but the Green Wave still likely won’t leave Louisiana.
The NCAA named LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette as two of the 16 regional hosts on Sunday night, giving the Wave (39-19) a pair of potential destinations close to home. The entire bracket will be announced during the tournament selection show Monday at 11 a.m. on ESPNU, with all regionals starting Friday.
Although coach David Pierce held out hope for more baseball at Turchin Stadium because of Tulane’s regular-season AAC championship, the Wave’s RPI of 30 was well below normal hosting range for a southern school considering the glut of viable candidates in the region.
Louisiana-Lafayette (41-19), which has an RPI of 15, shared the Sun Belt Conference regular-season title and doubled as tournament champion. Mississippi State and Ole Miss will host regionals as well, part of an NCAA-record seven hosts from the SEC — all with RPIs of 11 or better. The Atlantic Coast Conference gobbled up six more host roles.
“We probably had to advance to Sunday to have an outside chance,” Pierce said. “It’s just because of that one number (RPI of 30). In the future, I would like to see our conference champion be a host every year.”
Tulane, which won twice in a row at Houston to claim the AAC title last weekend, was on the opposite end of the spectrum for the conference tournament in Clearwater, Fla., dropping two games to the fifth-seeded Cougars around a pair of victories against No. 8 seed UCF. Pierce, who will improve to 5 for 5 in making regionals as a head coach on Monday, has been much less successful in conference tournaments. Counting his three years at Sam Houston State, he dropped to 7-10, never having won more than two games in a single season.
Those expecting Tulane to be slotted into LSU’s regional for the second consecutive year may be in for a surprise. Before 2015, the Wave was sent elsewhere the last two times it could have played in Baton Rouge for the postseason, heading to Oxford, Miss. in 2004 and to Tallahassee, Fla. in 2008.
With Louisiana Tech likely to make the field as an at-large team and Southeastern Louisiana on the bubble for one of the final spots, the selection committee has other options if it wants a second team from Louisiana at Alex Box Stadium.
Tulane’s AAC championship and 6-1 record against RPI top 25 teams make it a virtual certainty for a No. 2 seed. That body of work, which includes a home-and-home sweep of LSU, may be better than the No. 2 seed the committee will want to send to Baton Rouge. Tulane beat the Tigers 7-1 in Baton Rouge and 4-1 in New Orleans behind stellar outings from starting pitcher J.P. France.
Lafayette could be the better fit. The Wave split two games with the Cajuns, winning 5-3 at Turchin Stadium on March 8 and falling 9-2 on April 12 at M.L. ‘Tigue’ Moore Field.
“You never know what the committee’s going to do, but I think we’re a very strong two (seed),” Pierce said. “There are really so many teams that are in our region hosting that it can go in any direction.”
History has not been kind to Tulane in the postseason away from home. The Wave has won only one of 18 road regionals, getting to the final day only two other times.
But all but one of those trips took place before Pierce arrived. After going 1-2 in Baton Rouge last season it its first regional since 2008, Tulane will have much higher expectations this time.
“We had a hard time stringing hits together against Houston and we just didn’t get it done, but there was no shame to it,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can play well anywhere.”