The Tulane baseball team headed to Florida on Wednesday for what will be at least a five-game trip.
Other than that for cosmetic purposes, the first three will not matter much.
The Green Wave (24-29, 11-12 American Athletic Conference), which needs to win the AAC tournament next week in Clearwater to earn a regional bid, finishes the regular season with a Thursday through Saturday series against Central Florida (33-19, 11-10) in Orlando. A sweep would give Tulane an outside chance to avoid having back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the early 1960s, but the Wave will be far more intent on setting up its rotation for Clearwater.
Keagan Gillies, who allowed five runs in four innings while throwing 81 pitches during Tuesday’s nights 7-6 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette, will sit out the series to get ready for the Tuesday or Wednesday tournament opener. He has been Tulane’s most effective pitcher all year.
Kaleb Roper (5-4, 4.73 ERA) will keep his normal series-opening spot, allowing his normal rest before pitching in the second game of the tournament.
The rest of the rotation will be the same as against Memphis last weekend, when Gillies missed his start because of flu-like symptoms. Trent Johnson (4-2, 4.50) will pitch Friday, with freshman Josh Bates (2-2, 4.50) going Saturday in auditions for key tournament roles.
The series is much more significant for UCF, which is in good position for an at-large bid with an RPI of 34, but no lock with the potential of finishing at .500 or below in the AAC. The Knights cannot afford to look ahead to the tournament.
Tulane can, although a couple of hitters will try to remain hot.
Sophomore Grant Mathews had his fifth consecutive multi-hit game against UL-Lafayette, raising his batting average to .350. He is 12 of 19 at the plate since becoming a full-time starter.
Trevor Jensen, whose three-run home run cut the deficit to 7-6 in the ninth inning, has at least one hit in 16 of his last 18 games, batting .356 in that span.
“The last month I’ve been feeling really good in the box,” Jensen said. “Hitting is so contagious. I really believe that. I hope to keep it up.”
On the other end of the spectrum, right fielder Tyler Heinrichs is 3 for his last 40, dropping his average to .167, and shortstop Sal Gozzo is 3 for his last 28, with his average dipping to .226.
Their emergence from prolonged slumps will be more significant than the results of the games as Tulane points to Clearwater. The Wave could finish as high as fifth in the AAC if it sweeps UCF, but more realistically, it is trying to hold off Wichita State for seventh. The Shockers are a game-and-half behind the Wave entering their series at last-place Memphis, which will not play in the tournament.
The teams may be dodging bad weather all series. On Wednesday evening, weather.com listed an 80-percent chance of thunderstorms on Thursday, a 100-percent chance on Friday and an 80-percent chance on Saturday. … UCF leads the AAC in ERA at 3.19 while Tulane is last at 5.27. … UCF first baseman Rylan Thomas and left fielder Tyler Osik share the AAC lead with 54 RBIs.