Despite going 1-2 for the third consecutive weekend, the Tulane baseball team remained in second place in the American Athletic Conference entering the final stretch of the regular season.
To hold on to that spot, though, the Green Wave (29-22, 11-9) will have to do something it has not done all year — win a series against a top-100 RPI opponent.
After a final non-league game against South Alabama (29-22) on Tuesday, Tulane plays host to No. 31 Connecticut from Thursday through Saturday and will be looking to reverse its results against similar competition. The Wave has lost series against RPI No. 5 East Carolina, No. 15 UC Santa Barbara, No. 28 Ole Miss. No. 36 Houston and No. 49 Central Florida while beating No. 102 South Florida, No. 104 Cincinnati, No. 105 Wichita State, No. 213 Houston Baptist. No. 219 George Washington and No. 220 UC Riverside.
One key, for coach Travis Jewett, is to stop letting opponents have bounce-back innings.
Saturday at Houston, the Wave scored five runs in the third inning to tie it at 5, but the Cougars went right back ahead 6-5 in the bottom half.
When Tulane took its first lead in the seventh at 7-6, Houston tied it immediately and had a five-spot of its own in the eighth.
In the finale, the Wave closed a 3-0 gap to 3-2 in the eighth, only to have the Cougars score twice in their half, stopping the momentum.
Tulane lost both games, sandwiching a dramatic comeback in the nightcap of Saturday’s rain-delayed doubleheader when the Wave scored twice in the ninth to tie it and four runs in the 10th, holding on to win 9-7 after an 18-minute delay because the lights at Schroeder Park timed out at 1 a.m.
“We just have a lot of tendency to score and let score, “Jewett said. “We go ahead and then all of a sudden they get it right back. We need a little bit of space there.”
The significance of playing well this week goes farther than just cementing second place. By winning the UConn series, the Wave would guarantee a spot on the opposite bracket from league juggernaut East Carolina in the AAC tournament, which begins next Tuesday in Clearwater, Florida.
The Pirates, 18-3 in the league, have outscored their opponents 150-66, including 14-0 and 8-2 beatdowns of Tulane at the end of April before the Wave won the finale 9-8 in Greenville, North Carolina.
Tulane has to win the AAC tournament to reach an NCAA regional for the first time in Jewett’s three-year tenure, and the Pirates would be more vulnerable in a single-elimination championship game than in a double-elimination bracket.
Tulane is percentage points ahead of Cincinnati (24-27, 13-11), which already has completed its conference schedule, and a half-game ahead of Houston (31-19, 11-10), which plays at Central Florida (31-19, 9-12) this weekend. If those standings hold, the Wave could end up in a four-team bracket that includes the Bearcats, whom it beat 19-4 and 8-1 in the first two games of a series in Cincinnati, and Memphis, whom it beat 20-5 on the road, as a No. 6 or 7 seed.
The coaches picked Cincinnati and Memphis to finish at the bottom of the league before the season started.
Tulane’s Justin Campbell, who had made a team-high 28 appearances, will start for the first time against South Alabama (1-3, 4.85 ERA) in a battle of left-handers. The Jaguars will pitch Caleb Yarborough (3-5, 5.15). … After winning its first six midweek games, Tulane has lost six of its past seven.