What a difference a year makes, right?
The Tulane Green Wave kicked off the 2018 season by sweeping the Wright State Raiders. This is how some thought last season was supposed to begin with a veteran club beating inferior competition. Instead, that team struggled through the first weekend and never really got going in what would turn out to be a frustrating losing campaign.
Not so this year.
What makes this start more impressive is that the freshman bat boy has as much experience as a lot of the players on the "New Wave." OK, that’s stretching it a bit, but you’ll need a program with all of the fresh new faces this year.
On top of that, and here is what many don’t seem to recognize, is that Wright State is a real ball club that will float in and out of the top 40 all year. The Raiders have won either the Horizon Conference’s regular season or tournament three of the last four years. Even more impressive, this Raiders club kicked off last year by winning a series at #10 Clemson and also added a win at #4 South Carolina. The year before that, this club ended #20 Ohio State’s season in the NCAA regionals. Get the picture?
It was a beautiful weekend at Turchin Stadium and the Green Wave, and their cast of new faces, put on a great performance in their first season-opening sweep since 2014.
Green Wave 4 Raiders 3
Do you like for your season openers to be tense? The first game of the year was tight throughout in the debut of redshirt junior Kaleb Roper, who had a nice performance on the mound. The Archbishop Rummel grad only gave up one earned run through five innings before Sam Bjorngjeld (hey, it’s one of the old guys!) got him out of a jam in the sixth.
Acy Owen, in his debut with Tulane, said hello to Uptown with his first home run of the year to give the Green Wave a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning. Owen had a solid weekend of play and Tulane needs him to own the catcher position this year and be a weapon much like Joey Montalbano and Jake Rogers. Those are big shoes, folks.
A trio of freshman (Brenden Celucci, Josh Bates, Conner Pellerin) kept the Raiders’ offense in check and me flipping the pages in my program. The teams fought to a 4-3 score before the Green Wave brought in their potential closer Will McCaffer, another new face.
It got interesting pretty quickly for the junior with Wright State getting runners on second and third before McCaffer was able to force a pop out to end the game.
Green Wave 6 Raiders 5
Did I say the first game was intense? Yep, this was even more so as the Green Wave went into extra innings to take the victory. It was one of those games that sort of felt ho-hum, the kind a team loses and moves on from but Tulane just wasn’t going down this weekend.
Starting pitcher Ben White, grad student new guy, would only get through four innings before giving way to Chase Solesky, who had an up and down performance before getting knocked around in the seventh inning as the Raiders took a 5-2 lead.
Thankfully, right when the game started to be in doubt, junior new guy Trevor Jensen knocked the ball over the left fielder’s head for his first hit of the year, bringing in two runs.
Now I’m skipping right to the play of Ross Massey (old guy). Oh boy. As Massey entered the game the crowd was there for him but there was some anxiety in the air as well. Maybe Massey felt it as he walked the first batter he faced. After that? Lights out. Massey sent the next nine batters packing and the Wave fought into extra innings and still new guy Acy Owen drilled a shot into right field to win the game.
Now, if Massey truly comes all the way back then Tulane has a tantalizing problem. Almost all of the pitching performances by the Green Wave were good, so will Massey become the mid-week pitcher? Or, enter the weekend rotation? Or, keep playing a lights out relief role much like Corey Merrill did two seasons ago? Whatever the outcome, Massey had the performance of the weekend.
Green Wave 11 Raiders 5
Sophomore starting pitcher Keagan Gillies, unbelievably seems like an old guy at this point, had a strong outing after giving up two runs in the first and completely shut down the Raiders in the third and fourth inning allowing Tulane to scrap its way back into the game.
The next inning began the Matt Rowland show. Rowland, a redshirt senior which means he’s been around since the dawn of time, went yard in the fifth and singled in the seventh for his fifth RBI to crush any Raider dreams of victory.
In all seriousness, a strong year by Rowland and a comeback season by Massey makes this team a different a.k.a. far more dangerous ball club this year. Especially with the continued great play of fellow old person Grant Witherspoon (three hits, four walks, one hit by pitch on the weekend).
I don’t have enough space to mention everyone but it was a truly great team effort by the Wave. On to Oxford!
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Port Orleans Brewing’s “The Siren” Pale Ale
Playlist Recommendation: Thin Lizzy – “The Boys Are Back In Town”
Around the Way
Speaking of intense, check out Tulane’s baseball schedule. Starting with the Ole Miss series on Friday, the Wave will play 18 games in 24 days. This isn’t a cast of nobodies. The Wave will take on #9 Ole Miss, #15 Southern Miss and #22 Cal-State Fullerton as well as Louisiana-Lafayette, UNO, Southeastern Louisiana and Long Beach State.
And after all that? LSU.
That’s an awesome schedule. Get out to the park Green Wave fans.