I was going to open this paragraph with a witty line about Chuck Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” until I realized I never read it and have no clue what it’s about. To be quite honest, the only Dickens story I know is, “Bleak House,” which I watched over Melanie’s shoulder on WYES. It was one of those rare shows that had the ability to make one hour seem like an entire day. I guess I’ll never know what, “Tale of Two Cities,” is about unless it runs on PBS, so don’t send any spoilers to me, unless the show is about baseball. Long story long, the city of New Orleans has two college baseball programs — UNO and Tulane — headed in decidedly different directions.
The High Road
The UNO Privateers are off to a strong start in 2017. The Men of the Lake are 9-3 early on with an electrifying victory over the No. 4 LSU Tigers in their pocket. After sweeping through their MLB Urban Youth tournament, which included a victory over the University of Illinois-Chicago (who unbelievably won a series against Vanderbilt), the Privateers surprised the Bayou Tigers at Maestri Field.
A hangover might have been expected and the Privateers did stumble to a series loss against Troy University and a mid-week loss to South Alabama, both members of the — say it with me — Fun Belt conference. While Troy is expected to finish mid-pack in the Sun Belt, South Alabama will be nipping at the heels of UL-Lafayette and the defending NCAA champion Coastal Carolina all year long. This is quality competition.
Last week, UNO “got healthy” against an overmatched Alcorn State squad, outscoring the Braves 31-6 in a three-game sweep. The Privateers are seemingly right where they should be in coach Blake Dean’s second campaign. They’re beating the teams they should beat and getting an upset or two along the way.
The Low Road
Tulane’s portion of this piece should be called, “Road Less Travelled,” or something like that after taking the series against West Virginia. Unfortunately, I’m still boiling over the garbage call by West Virginia’s coaching staff to send their runner home, while their team was up eight runs, and that garbage player — Jackson Cramer — intentionally and illegally lowering his shoulder and barreling through Tulane’s catcher Jeremy Montalbano at the plate. According to Montalbano’s Twitter, his ankle was broken on the play. I wish West Virginia nothing but the worst.
I’ll move on. It was a solid series victory for the Green Wave (3-8) after a weak start to the season that saw them drop games to Army (3-7) and Air Force (4-6) in the opening weekend. A three-game series sweep at the hands of UC-Santa Barbara was sandwiched between losses to Southeastern Louisiana and Southern Miss, which amounted to a punishing seven-game losing streak.
Even more unsettling, is the play of Tulane’s pitching staff. Every starter has been absolutely shelled on at least one occasion and nothing seems to be going right for Ross Massey. The sophomore pre-season all-conference selection has only finished 10.1 innings in three starts and has a robust 8.71 ERA. Freshman pitcher Chase Solesky is looking good, but every one else…not so much.
A hot start for the Privateers is one thing, building off it is another, much like UNO’s need to build off of their surprising play last season. The Privateers are entering their nastiest five-game stretch of the season. After UNO plays Southern Miss tonight, they play a weekend series against Southeastern Louisiana. After that? A rematch with an LSU squad looking for revenge in Baton Rouge. If the Privateers can snatch two victories over the stretch it will be a success.
Games against USM and LSU are good measure for New Orleans. The Eagles and Tigers of the world have far more resources devoted to their programs and attract better talent. Yet, the series versus Southeastern is even bigger for UNO. It’s a great first series in the Southland for UNO against a team picked to finish second, behind Sam Houston State, in the league. And, lets not forget, it was the Lions who broke UNO’s heart with a ninth-inning comeback victory in the conference tournament last year.
In Uptown, it couldn’t be simpler at this point. Win, win, win. Forget what’s already happened, forget what’s up ahead, hell forget everything. Just win.
It’s not “do or die” yet, but that time is quickly approaching. It’s easy to look past slow starts, but I promise you losses to teams who have RPI’s that hover around 200 will haunt at the end of the season unless they start taking care of business immediately.
Tulane plays #15 UL-Lafayette tonight at Turchin Stadium in their first crack at a ranked opponent. Luckily for the Green Wave, they should roll out Solesky, in that young man’s biggest test to date. After the Ragin’ Cajuns contest, the Green Wave will host San Diego in a four-game series. Again, Tulane needs wins, but getting three-of-four against this tough West Coast Conference squad will go a long way to righting the ship. Just win, baby.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: No Label Brewing’s “El Hefe Weizen”
Playlist Recommendation: David Bowie – “Heroes”
Around The Way
As one season begins, another heads into March Madness. While both the women’s and men’s squads of Tulane and the University of New Orleans have qualified for their respective conference basketball tournaments, it is the Privateers men’s team that enters the post-season with the highest hopes.
UNO won the regular season title in the Southland and enter the tourney as the number one seed. They get a double-bye into the semi-finals and will play their first game this Friday, at 5 p.m. They will most likely play the No. 4 seed Houston Baptist, a team they beat 72-64 at Lakefront Arena earlier this year. Whatever the matchup, the game will be on ESPN 3. And how awesome would it be to see a Crescent City team in March Madness?