In a long college baseball season, these can be the forgotten weekends.
It also makes them the trap weekends. When the season rolls into the meat of conference play and the heat of regional projections, these early March series against unfamiliar opponents tend to get lost in the conversation.
Now that No. 25 Tulane has broken into the rankings for the first time since 2011, it’s raised the hopes of Green Wave fans who are clamoring to see the once-perennial NCAA tournament program return to national prominence for the first time since 2008.
The tournament is still three months away. For now, the Green Wave (11-2) recognizes it’s on a journey that can only happen one a pitch at a time. That’s a message first-year coach David Pierce instills on a daily basis.
“Thankfully for us, we have a coaching staff that has been telling us continually since they got here that the key is to grind each day out — and that the worst thing would be to look back at the end of the season and see a game that hurts us that we just let slip away,” senior infielder Garrett Deschamp said. “So before games and practices, we are always reminded on what’s coming up now and not looking too forward into the future.”
That next step in a potential road to the postseason comes this weekend at Turchin Stadium against Gonzaga. The Bulldogs (5-7) are the third West Coast Conference team Tulane has played this season, joining Pepperdine and San Francisco, against whom the Green Wave tallied a 5-1 record.
The Green Wave can’t really look down at anyone anyway. Although Gonzaga has reached one NCAA tournament since it began recording its baseball history in 1960, its success is more notable than the Green Wave’s over the past five years.
Gonzaga won the WCC in 2009 (making its only postseason appearance) and 2013, while only one Tulane starter has ever even played in a conference tournament.
“I don’t think we’re in any position to be looking past anyone, especially this weekend,” Deschamp said. “We have done a good job finding that line between being cocky and arrogant and being confident. Our confidence has done a lot for us, so we don’t want to lose that, but we aren’t looking past them at all.”
In fact, junior Tim Yandel — who was recently dubbed LSWA Pitcher of the Month — said the Green Wave’s ranking has given his team some added motivation. Rather than carrying it is a burden, Yandel believes Tulane is treating the spotlight as a privilege to protect.
“I think it’s provided some fuel for us,” Yandel said. “I think whenever teams get ranked, everyone is worried about them getting complacent, but we are doing the exact opposite right now. It’s been pretty cool to see the way everyone has reacted to it. When you look at what we’ve been through the past few years, we know how fast things can fall apart, so it’s up to us to keep it together.”
And, this year, the Green Wave appears to be in the midst of a renaissance, carried largely by its starting pitching. Friday night ace Corey Merrill (1-0, 1.04) leads a rotation that has a minuscule 1.40 ERA in 13 games.
No matter who Tulane matches up against, no matter the time of the year or conference affiliation, that level of starting pitching can carry the Green Wave through it. But Pierce said he doesn’t sense a concern about a trap weekend or any letting up.
“We have had a great approach in practices and these guys are really getting after it,” Pierce said. “When you see that, you know your team is excited for an opponent to come into town and is excited to get out on the field and try to keep winning every time they go out there.”