The Tulane baseball team’s first series loss of the year and the American Athletic Conference’s season-long struggles have increased the magnitude of Tuesday night’s game against Conference USA co-leader Southern Miss.
The Green Wave (22-13) needs all of the good wins it can get to bolster its NCAA regional at-large candidacy. The Golden Eagles (27-10) head the list of targets with an RPI of 19, according to WarrenNolan.com.
After beating Southern Miss 12-7 in Biloxi, Mississippi, on March 22, Tulane can complete the sweep at 6:30 p.m. at Turchin Stadium and improve to 6-2 against top-50 teams.
“It’s something you look at when you’re on the (selection) committee,” coach David Pierce said. “They are a very good team and are going to compete for the Conference USA title. I just want to see us go out there and play with confidence and play aggressively.”
Tulane may need to rest its case on quality victories, because it is not getting much help from the AAC. After losing two of three to Cincinnati at Turchin over the weekend, the Wave fell to fifth place out of eight teams.
Just as ominously, the league slipped to seventh in the RPI, a significant stumble from its third-place ranking a year ago. Conference-leading Cincinnati, at 18-19 overall, has dropped four non-league games in a row.
Central Florida, Tulane’s opponent this weekend, has lost eight consecutive midweek contests. Future opponent South Florida is 1-8 in midweek games.
Southern Miss and LSU, which Tulane will entertain next Tuesday, are the only remaining opponents in the top 50 of the RPI.
The 12 runs Tulane put up against Southern Miss in the first meeting have become a distant memory. Since starting AAC play, the Wave is hitting .222 in 10 games. It has scored 19 runs in its past seven games.
“Hitting is so result-oriented, and that’s something you have to understand as a baseball player,” Pierce said. “We have had poor results for the last week or so, but when we look at film and we look at own personal charts, we barreled more balls (in Sunday’s 7-4 loss to Cincinnati) than we have many games.”
Leadoff hitter Stephen Alemais, who was batting above .400 earlier in the year, is 11 for his past 53 (.208). He has plenty of company. Catcher Jake Rogers is 4 for his past 45 (.089). Senior outfielder Richard Carthon lost his spot in the starting lineup with a 5-for-36 slump (.139). Freshman Grant Witherspoon is 4 for 27 (.148) in his past eight.
“That’s why we do all this (film) preparation (of good swings that still result in outs) and show it to them,” Pierce said. “It’s something that every hitter goes through at some time or another. When you have a lineup that goes through it, you have to become a psychologist, but really what they need to do is simplify their minds, simplify their approach, move on and trust themselves.”
Tulane’s midweek pitching has not been trustworthy lately, either. J.P. France (2-1, 4.67 ERA) has struggled in three of his past four starts, giving up 19 hits and 11 earned runs in 13.1 innings.
The exception was a six-inning blanking of LSU. He allowed four runs in 5.2 innings while earning the win in the first meeting with Southern Miss.
Southern Miss will use freshman left-hander Stevie Powers (0-0. 1.90), who pitched 4.1 scoreless innings as the Golden Eagles beat Ole Miss 5-1 last Wednesday. Pierce said Powers, who has thrown 18.2 innings this year, reaches the upper 80s on his fastball with quick arm action.
In his new role as team psychologist, Pierce is trying to pump confidence into his lineup.
“We’ve had success against that type of guy,” he said. “It’s all about getting good pitches and being ready to hit.”
Pierce said Grant Brown would join Lex Kaplan and Grant Witherspoon in the outfield for Tulane, with Carthon sitting for the third consecutive game. … Corey Merrill, who returned from a four-week layoff with a strained muscle in his forearm to throw an inning Sunday, will not be available. His status for the weekend will be determined after he pitches in practice Wednesday.