The Tulane baseball team may be staring up from the cellar, but its situation is far from hopeless.
After losing three consecutive series to begin its membership in the American Athletic Conference, the Green Wave (22-14, 3-6) has managed to avoid being swept, allowing it to sit only two games back of second-place Memphis in the eight-team league.
It’s why several Tulane players and coach David Pierce spoke at length about energy following the Green Wave’s 3-1 win at Houston on Sunday, bouncing back after consecutive losses.
“I think it was really important for us in a few ways because we needed something to carry us into next week and get us out of here with a good feeling,” sophomore shortstop Stephen Alemais said. “Now we have a big week ahead of us, and it’s really important to see each of these games as they are. We have some big weekends coming up, and a lot of them are coming to us, so we need to make them count.”
Before it can improve its spot in the standings, Tulane first must tangle with a former league foe, Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles (20-12-1) come to Turchin Stadium at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, a month after battering Tulane 8-4 in Hattiesburg.
Tulane will send closer Ian Gibaut to the mound for his second consecutive midweek start, after not getting an opportunity to pitch over the weekend. Pierce said he would like to get Gibaut, the Green Wave’s best pro prospect, more innings, and using him in a starting role would certainly solve that dilemma.
The USM game sets the table for Central Florida’s visit to New Orleans, a series that will mark the midway point of the conference schedule. Considering Tulane has dropped four consecutive weekend series, the sense of urgency in the clubhouse is palpable.
While coaches and players avoided claiming the week was make-or-break, four games against top-100 RPI opponents (USM is No. 81 and UCF is No. 48) has Pierce sensing an opportunity to jockey back onto the NCAA bubble if things turn around quickly. Tulane’s RPI is No. 51.
“We have to keep grinding away at this thing and not look back at what’s happened,” Pierce said. “Avoiding sweeps has been important, because those can really set you back a long way, but we need to keep playing this thing out and showing up every day ready to go, because it can move fast.”
The bunched-up conference standings have allowed Tulane to maintain hope. Only South Florida (7-2) is more than one game over .500 and, after spending a large portion of the past month on the road, only one of Tulane’s next four weekends will be spent away from Turchin Stadium (at 11-22 Cincinnati on April 24-26).
The Green Wave is 13-6 at home this year and 9-8 on the road, meaning a chance to play an extended stretch in its own ballpark could be the pivot Tulane needs.
“It’s good we get some time back home to get some of these games,” said catcher Jake Rogers, who has thrown out a remarkable 24 of 37 potential base-stealers. “There’s something better about playing at home, and it seems like we have played a lot of road games, but that’s not any excuse for the way things have gone. I really just think we aren’t that far away and we can get back to where we were early in the year with an adjustment or two.”