The Tulane baseball team will face a bit of a problem when it plays Southern Miss in its final home game Tuesday evening at Turchin Stadium.
With the start of a pivotal series against Memphis only two days away, the Green Wave (31-19) cannot afford to burn any pitchers that could help it against the Tigers. Although a victory against the Golden Eagles (31-16-1) could bolster Tulane’s No. 44 RPI, the three games at Memphis should determine whether the Wave finishes third or sixth in the bunched-up American Athletic Conference.
That’s the difference between the right and the wrong side of the NCAA regional bubble.
Tim Yandel (2-1, 3.67 ERA) will start against Southern Miss, but look for every pitching stint to be short as coach David Pierce saves his arms. He said Sunday it might be one inning for nine guys before deciding Monday to begin with Yandel, who was in the weekend rotation in February and March but has come out of the bullpen since then.
“This is the first midweek game that is a little bit different,” Pierce said. “We’re doing everything we can to give ourselves the best chance to win, but at the same time keeping available arms ready.”
Tulane was supposed to be free until Thursday, but a rainout April 14 forced the Southern Miss game to be rescheduled for Tuesday. First pitch will be at 5 p.m., 17 hours before the Wave heads to Memphis.
“You have to try to play the games, and it was the only available date,” Pierce said. “I’ve never considered just canceling a game. (Southern Miss coach) Scott Berry and I are good friends. We looked at our schedules, and we’re both in the same position. It’s definitely not the best week to play, but that’s how we get better is to continue playing games.”
The Golden Eagles (31-16-1), who handled the Wave 8-4 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on March 11, are no easy assignment. They have won nine in a row overall and nine consecutive midweek games since losing to UNO on Feb. 18, beating the likes of Mississippi State, Alabama, Ole Miss (twice) and Sun Belt Conference leader South Alabama (twice).
With virtually no chance at an at-large bid to an NCAA regional, USM does not have to worry about wasting arms ahead of its Conference USA series at Middle Tennessee State. The Golden Eagles will throw normal midweek starter Cord Cockrell (3-0, 3.79 ERA), who earned the victory but surrendered four runs in 6.1 innings when they beat the Wave in March.
“They are a very solid team,” Pierce said. “They’re really based on pitching and defense, with a few guys that can hurt you with some power.”
Yandel has slumped after a strong start when he gave up only two runs in 26.1 innings. Since then, he has allowed 19 runs in 21.1 innings, struggling with his control.
He has pitched one inning in Tulane’s past eight games and did not appear against South Florida over the weekend.
Yandel will be the first in a parade of arms. Pierce mentioned freshman lefty Sam Bjorngjeld, whose only two appearances were against Connecticut and Memphis, and junior Troy Ward, who has pitched four times totaling six innings, as possibilities.
“We’re just going to have to be a little bit more manipulative of our pitching staff,” Pierce said. “We will use multiple pitchers.”
One pitcher you definitely won’t see is Emerson Gibbs, who lasted six innings in Sunday’s pivotal victory against South Florida that pulled Tulane into a three-way tie for third place in the AAC. He will be in the dugout cheering as the Wave seeks its 11th win in 16 games.
“We had a little rough patch, but the teams that make it far in the postseason get hot late,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing right now.”