Tulane Green Wave players and coaches felt they had the resume to make the 2012 NCAA baseball tournament. Unfortunately for them, the selection committee did not. The Green Wave's 38-20 record (14-10 in CUSA) just wasn't enough. "Our league is one of the top fi ve leagues in the country, and when you fi nish third in that league and have 38 wins, you feel like you should go," head coach Rick Jones said. This time around, the Wave hope to leave no doubt in the committee's mind.
The veteran group returning is highlighted by Garrett Cannizaro, a three-year starter, who returns at third base. The Mandeville native is one of several seniors who'll take the fi eld for Tulane starting in February. Joining him for one fi nal campaign will be All-Conference outfi elder Brandon Boudreaux, Brennan Middleton at shortstop, Sean Potkay at fi rst base, and Blake Crohan. "Of our seven starters returning, most of them are seniors, and that's something that you don't see very often," Jones said of his core group coming back. "We know each other's tendencies and the camaraderie is incredible in the clubhouse," Middleton said.
Offensively, the Wave were a solid group at the plate. They led the conference in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. Five starters who batted over .300 are back. They were led by Brennan Middleton, who batted .357 at the dish. That was secondbest in the conference. "We're basically as hungry as we've ever been to leave our mark on the program and do something of importance, other than win a lot of games," Middleton was quoted in a university press release. If the offense improves any, Tulane will win a lot of baseball games.
"We have more quality pitching depth than we've had in a long time," Jones said. Alex Byo (9-4), David Napoli (7-3), and Andrew Reeves (2-2) bring a starting rotation that worked over 300 innings last season. Eleven other arms return to a staff that only loses D.J. Ponder from 2012. This staff has experience on the hill and should keep the Wave in most games. Said Byo, "We are certainly locked, loaded and ready to go." The Baton Rouge native started 14 games a year ago and led the team in wins. Napoli posted a 2.86 ERA, which helped the staff earn their lowest ERA since 1980. Reeves started nine games at pitcher and logged just over 47 innings of work with 25 strikeouts. Alex Massey, Randy LeBlanc and Kyle McKenzie all made starts, and will be counted on this year for valuable innings. If competition brings out the best in this staff, they will be a solid unit of the Tulane ball club.
Partially because Tulane missed the NCAA tournament last year, Jones has beefed up the non-conference schedule in hopes of bringing up the team's RPI. Weekend series against Notre Dame and Alabama could certainly help that. Mid-week trips to Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Hammond, and Monroe won't hurt either. In Conference USA, Central Florida, Rice, Southern Miss and East Carolina will give teams a tough out on any day. Jones says: don't overlook UAB and Memphis either. "Our league doesn't get the notoriety because it's not a BCS conference, but in baseball, we are one of the best in the country," he said.
This year, Jones enters his 19th season as head coach of the Green Wave. He hopes his program can turn the corner this year and take the next step. They've racked up an overall record of 101-70 over the past three years, but still haven't advanced to the NCAA fi eld of 64. The last time that happened was in 2008. This year may be the most opportune time to get back in the postseason. This veteran-led squad has the experience and depth on both offense and defense to play with anyone in the conference. They'll need to put up a better fi ght in the conference tournament. If that happens, Tulane could be back in the postseason for the fi rst time in fi ve years. The Green Wave's combination of depth and experience doesn't come around too often. There's no reason they shouldn't be back in NCAA postseason form in 2013.
Regular season prediction: 2nd in the C-USA (39-15 overall, 15-9 in C-USA)
Postseason prediction: Reach NCAA Tournament, Regional Runner-Up