Tulane hired baseball coach David Pierce to bring change to a sliding program, and his first significant departure from the past is showing up in fall practice.
For the first time, the Green Wave will play against Division I opponents, starting with a trip to Rice on Saturday for a 14-inning scrimmage and following with a matchup against UNO on Oct. 18 at Turchin Stadium.
“It helps to break up the fall monotony,” Pierce said. “At the beginning of fall practice (on Sept. 10), you get excited about getting on the field, then you get excited about playing intrasquad with each other, and then you hit the boredom stage. We’re in the boredom stage, so we’re ready to go play someone in a different color uniform.”
Although the two games won’t affect Tulane’s record, they count toward the total of 56 a college team can play in a season, leaving the Green Wave with 54 on the schedule in the spring.
Pierce is fine with that, pointing out the NCAA’s decision to shorten the season by two weeks in 2008 forced teams to cram 56 games into a truncated time period, resulting in too many five-game weeks. Rice began playing fall games when he was an assistant. He did the same at Sam Houston State in his three years as head coach there before taking the Tulane job.
Scheduling Rice in the fall was a natural because of Pierce’s relationship with Owls coach Wayne Graham. He wanted UNO as the second one because he prefers playing the Privateers twice in the spring instead of three times, as was customary in the past.
The potential for evaluation will be invaluable.
“It’s amazing how different it is than practicing against yourself,” Pierce said. “There’s a comfort of playing each other in intrasquad, but when you’re facing another team, the nerves kick in a little more and you see how guys react against outside competition. It tells you a lot.”
The games aren’t the only difference between Pierce and predecessor Rick Jones. The style of play will change, too.
“It’s more small-ball and fast-paced,” sophomore pitcher Corey Merrill said. “It’s a different way of baseball, but I really like it a lot. It’s really fun to watch, actually.”
The first task for Pierce and his staff is figuring out how to make Tulane hit. The Green Wave finished 293rd out of 296 Division I teams with a .225 batting average last season.
The new, flat-seamed baseball introduced at the 2014 College World Series should help a little — Pierce estimated the ball was traveling about 15 feet farther off the bat — but the type of ball does not explain why Tulane was worse than almost everyone else.
“I don’t think they had good results, but I wouldn’t say they couldn’t hit,” Pierce said. “They were a very young team (five freshmen started regularly) with a lot of guys playing in Division I for the first time, so there was a lot of pressure. I’m really just trying to ask guys to free themselves up and clear their minds and rely on what got them here. They were recruited for a reason. They had talent.”
The pressure won’t necessarily disappear, but it should take a new form.
The Wave began last season trying to save Jones’ job, and when he had to take a leave of absence because of health concerns, they knew the entire staff’s fate hinged on their play.
Now they have to live up to Pierce’s legacy of winning.
“They’re expecting a lot from us this year,” sophomore shortstop Stephen Alemais said. “Coach Pierce has been coaching for 14 years and he went to a regional every year, so there’s always pressure. We definitely don’t want to stop that this year.”