Mar 28, 201711:40 AM
Full Sport Press
'The games we play in New Orleans and beyond'
At The Crossroads
Tulane baseball must choose a path
A weekend on the road left me without access to watching Tulane play at home against Stetson. However, I was keeping tabs by staying up with the excellent Tulane baseball Twitter account. Yet, as the weekend unraveled (truly) I was left watching not-so-excellent results tweet across my smartphone. Tulane had lost another series.
Just let me put it this way — Tulane shouldn’t lose to Stetson and Tulane shouldn’t lose a series to Stetson at home — ever. OK, maybe there were a few years where that could happen but not recently, especially not in a year when your team has championship dreams.
After the Green Wave posted two solid victories mid-week over the McNeese State Cowboys and the ranked UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, Tulane went out and lost a series to a team that had to replace six every day starters — and lost its number one pitcher — and its best closer to the MLB draft.
Unfortunately the past weekend is now part of a season-long trend of ugly losses.
The first shiver down the spine for the Olive and Blue faithful occurred the first weekend of the season. A weekend that would see Tulane drop games to the overmatched Air Force (10-13) and Army (8-15). But it was the first weekend we told ourselves. The team will come together and it’s Carnival, how in the hell can these guys concentrate anyway?
A west coast trip and sweep at the hands of UC-Santa Barbara followed (“They're a really good team,” we said.) A solid series victory over West Virginia (“See? They’re getting it together.”) was followed by a disheartening four-game sweep by San Diego.
Then they lost to 0-10 Columbia. There wasn’t really much to say after that.
And now here comes LSU. But, honestly, forget the Tigers, this team needs to focus on winning the American. So, it’s actually this weekend series versus the USF Bulls (22-3) that we should look to. It could be argued that Friday’s game is the most important game of the year. It’s time to set the tone for the rest of the season.
USF will be ready. They have a solid number one in Phoenix Sanders (1.64 ERA), a pitcher that throws some heat and doesn’t really lose much velocity in the later innings. He combines with Shane McClanahan (1.57 ERA) to form a duo that can really wreck a weekend. USF sports a .307 team batting average (compared to Tulane’s .247) and while their strength of schedule has been suspect, the Bulls do own a victory over the No. 12 Florida State Seminoles.
I wrote a few weeks back that it was “conference title or bust” for Tulane and that’s even truer today. Winning the regular season title can make a NCAA selection committee see bad losses to teams early in the season as an aberration. But, if Tulane finishes second or third in the conference regular season and whiffs in the tournament — then they’re just an aberration on West Virginia’s schedule.
This team needs to come together and start winning games right now.
So what do they do? Unfortunately on the offensive side, there’s not much you can do to get the bats going except…wait. Your veteran players just have to start hitting the ball like they’ve shown that they can in the past.
However, a change could be made on the mound if Coach Jewett wanted to provide a jolt. It also wouldn’t be uncalled for — every game has been an adventure for some part of the pitching staff. Sometimes the starters come out and get shelled by a bad team, sometimes they pitch solid only to be let down by a relief corps that hasn’t produced an ace up to this point.
The change could even be a comfortable one — move Corey Merrill back into the bullpen. The team has plenty of experience with it, former head coach David Pierce made the move last year when Merrill returned from injury. On a team that has no true stud reliever, bringing Merrill out of the pen in relief could be not only beneficial, but push this team back into the title hunt.
Merrill’s replacement in the weekend rotation is a no-brainer. Chase Solesky, a freshman, has been the most consistent pitcher in the now not-so-young season. The kid is seemingly unflappable, so why not run him out against your conference foes? Wouldn’t it be nice to see what Solesky can do against the conference now instead of waiting until the tournament with your NCAA regional bid on the line?
Solesky’s mid-week replacement? Commit to throwing a wave of arms. Give Sam Bjorngjeld the start and then work the situations. On a team with a lot of unproven assets it’s not a bad idea. These young guys need more innings. Mid-week is the time to see what you have, get a guy salty and mold him. Sure the plan could burn you against the likes of Southern Miss and Southeastern Louisiana, but remember…it’s conference or bust time.
All of this comes down to Jewett. This is big-time college baseball and as the head coach he’s got to get this team to gel and produce at a consistent, high level. Former head coach Pierce didn’t abandon this team because he saw a dearth of talent in the pipeline. Pierce left for a fat paycheck and his dream job of coaching the Texas Longhorns. Point being, Jewett took over a veteran team with very realistic dreams of a conference tourney championship and long NCAA run. Now, Jewett needs to wake his team up from this malaise and get them rolling the way the Green Wave is supposed to roll.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every tough decision should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Crying Eagle Brewing’s “Hop Blooded” IPA
Playlist Recommendation: White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army”