Tulane baseball coach Travis Jewett started sophomore Frankie Niemann at catcher on Tuesday night against McNeese State because he wanted another hot bat.
He could have looked just about anywhere in the dugout.
The Green Wave (11-6) has been putting up prodigious numbers up and down the lineup through 17 games, and Niemann was no exception. He delivered on all four of his plate appearances, driving in two runs with a single in the first inning, doubling in a run in the third, singling and scoring in the sixth and finishing with an infield single in the seventh as Tulane won comfortably, 9-3.
OK, that last one was total luck when a would-be double-play ground ball hit a careless second-base umpire, but he drilled the first three, raising his average to a hefty .478 in 23 at-bats.
“I’m just going up there trying to hit the ball hard,” he said. “I’m not overthinking. I’m just seeing a pitch I can hit hard and attacking it.”
Tulane is whacking the ball to every part of the park and beyond. It is early, but its batting average of .314 entering its weekend home series with UC Riverside (6-11) is the highest since former coach Rick Jones’ last College World Series team in 2005 hit .318. Its 26 home runs, the sixth most in Division I, has the Wave on pace for the highest total since the 1999 team blasted a school-record 128.
Tulane’s average of 8.6 runs is its most since the 2001 College World Series team scored at a 9.2 clip.
Even its 135 strikeouts are down significantly from the past three years, when the Wave registered the three highest totals in program history.
“We preach you’re only as good as the pitches you swing at,” said first baseman Trevor Jensen, whose .360 average is second best to Kody Hoese’s .370 among the Wave’s everyday starters. “We’re not missing the pitches we should be hitting.”
Hoese, in particular, is hitting them a long way. A year after having five homers in 223 at-bats, he has launched eight in 73, giving him the Wave’s early triple-crown lead including his 19 RBIs.
“I’m just sticking to my approach,” he said. “My goal is just to hit the ball hard. I’m not worried about home runs. I’m just seeing how the pitchers pitch to me lately and am sitting on a pitch.”
Six players who have started more than half of Tulane’s games are hitting .300 or better, and only one, slick-fielding shortstop Sal Gozzo, is below .280.
Even part-time starter Luke Glancy, batting a pedestrian .258 compared to his teammates, slammed a go-ahead home run against Dartmouth and has come up with clutch at-bats on multiple occasions.
“We’re so deep,” Jensen said. “Guys are coming off the bench and doing it. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s in the game. Every night there’s a new person contributing, and the guys who have been hot are just staying hot. It’s crazy to be a part of.”
To a man, the players insists the seeds for their growth were planted last year, when they bought into coach Travis Jewett’s and new hitting coach Eddie Smith’s philosophy. Although Tulane hit only .265, it started chasing fewer pitches and placing a premium on contact, particularly with two strikes.
The Wave just needed a year of playing to make it pay off.
“It’s really just the experience,” Jensen said. “Almost everyone in the lineup this year has had a few hundred at least college at-bats. The more at-bats, the more success you’re going to have.”
Jensen added that hitting was contagious, which may be one reason talented freshman outfielder Hudson Haskin has excelled, too. He is batting .357 with 17 RBIs despite starting only nine times.
Everywhere you look, someone is hitting a line shot or a launching one over the wall.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said outfielder Kobi Owen, who is second to Hoese with four homers. “Scoring runs is a lot of fun. Hitting home runs is a lot of fun. We definitely feed off of each other and like hitting the ball far.”
Jewett said he would stick with the same weekend starting rotation of Kaleb Roper (1-2. 4.43 ERA), Keagan Gillies (0-0, 10.43) and Chase Solesky (0-1, 5.79), with changes possible next week if they struggled again. … If you’re expecting UC Riverside to play typical West Coast small ball, think again. Jewett pointed out the Highlanders have five sacrifices for the year.