When baseball coach David Pierce labeled depth as Tulane’s biggest strength entering the year, he had no idea how quickly his assertion would be tested.
Ever since Stephen Alemais injured his shoulder diving into first base March 5 against Pepperdine, the Green Wave has held up without its big-hitting, slick-fielding All-America candidate at shortstop. Alemais will miss his eighth, ninth and 10 consecutive games this weekend in a series at perennial power Texas.
First, freshman Cade Edwards stepped up as his replacement in the field and at the top of the batting order. More recently, senior utility player Matt Braud, a Jesuit graduate who had played sparingly in his career, has taken over at shortstop, allowing Edwards to slide to his more natural spot at second base.
Tulane (11-6) has lost only twice since Alemais’ departure — by one run each at UNO and Nicholls State.
“We have a lot of depth,” Edwards said. “I remember coach Pierce saying that we could probably field two teams with guys on the bench and guys in the field. Our team has really proven that so far.”
Edwards is not Alemais, who hit a blistering .462 while driving in 11 runs in the first 10 games, but he is far from a liability. His on-base percentage of .400 is the third best among Tulane’s regular starters. He has scored eight runs in his sevens starts, hitting a respectable .273 with three doubles.
He also has gone error-free in all but one game, although his two miscues against Furman last Friday prompted his move to second base.
“He’s playing great,” Pierce said. “He’s swinging the bat well and doing everything he can do to help the ballclub.”
The next challenge is maintaining that level against Texas in his return to his home state. Edwards, a Houston native who was not recruited by the Longhorns, will have plenty of friends in attendance.
“The past couple of games I’ve been making some adjustments, and yesterday (against Nicholls State) I felt the best I have the past seven games,” he said. “I’m feeling pretty confident for this series. It’s going to be fun to go back (to Texas). I know a lot of people there and a lot of people are coming to town.”
Texas (7-10) has struggled under legendary 77-year-old coach Augie Garrido, but Pierce termed that record misleading. Seven of those defeats came to No. 16 California, No. 30 UCLA and No. 3 Texas A&M. The Longhorns split a four-game series with Stanford.
Texas’ Friday night starter, Kyle Johnston, can throw up to 95 mph.
“He’s a guy we’re talking about with team USA,” Pierce said. “It’s going to be a tough series. I want to see the pride of our team to go in there and feel like we’re going to win the series. I know they are going to learn from it, but I want to learn and win.”
The inconsistent Longhorns reached the College World Series in 2011 and 2014, missed the postseason entirely in 2012 and 2013 and went 30-27 last year, going 0-2 in regional play.
Alemais definitely will not be available. He began taking ground balls this week but has not swung yet, and Pierce said his return date remained unclear.
“Any time you lose a primary position, it’s tough on the team,” Pierce said. “The thing with Stephen is he’s not just an offensive player, he’s a presence. He’s the middle of our field. There are small things that people don’t recognize that he can do, even communication.”
Tulane has other issues. Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at Nicholls State was the Wave’s fifth in a row away from Turchin Stadium.
The streak should end in Austin if guys like Edwards and Braud, who hit his first career home run against Furman last weekend, continue to contribute.
“I don’t know what’s up with (the road woes), “Edwards said. “It’s going to be a great opportunity to be successful on the road, especially against a program like Texas that’s been very successful in the past.”