Opinion: Offensive consistency pivotal for Wave in conference play

Andrew Lemoine, Senior Staff Reporter

Tulane baseball (21-12, 2-4 American Athletic Conference) began the 2014-15 season on an impressive note in head coach David Pierce’s first year, jumping to an 11-2 start through the first three weeks of the season. This start was everything Tulane fans could wish for after the Wave’s 23-29 finish last season, the first time baseball finished under .500 since 1993.

Tulane won the first series of the season against Pepperdine, leading to a seven-game win streak. The Wave, however, dropped its first series of the year with consecutive losses at home against Gonzaga and against Southern Mississippi on the road. The Wave appeared to rebound after defeating Southeastern Louisiana and sweeping the defending Big East champions Xavier only to lose the next three consecutive weekend series.

Offensive production was a big question mark entering the 2015 season, as the Wave was outscored 176-219 and outhit 373-473 in the 2014 season. The team finished with a .226 batting average and .308 on-base percentage, ranking No. 293 out of No. 296 Division I teams. Pierce addressed his offensive philosophy during Tulane’s media day in January.

“We really stay away from the batting average as much as possible,” Pierce said. “We talk about how we are producing, on-base percentage versus batting average, advancing when the opportunity is there, back runners taking advantage of throws to the wrong base and being very aggressive and adaptable with the ball in play.”

This philosophy was evident as Tulane led the nation in sacrifice bunts through the first two weeks of the season. During the first 11 games, the Wave outhit opponents 113-84 and outscored them 64-30, earning a No. 25 ranking in D1 Baseball’s national poll.

Their performance declined, however, when the Wave dropped 10 of its next 19 games, with a batting average of .252 and an on-base percentage of .335. Batting and on-base percentage averages rank No. 234 and No. 239 in the nation, respectively.

Fortunately, a fearsome pitching staff, one of Pierce’s specialties, gives support to the offense. The current staff ranks No. 15 in the NCAA in ERA with 2.72 and No. 3 in shutouts with six, while limiting opposing teams to a .240 batting average.

Tulane faces a crucial conference matchup against Houston this weekend. The Wave, tied for last place in the AAC standings with Houston and Cincinnati, must win the series win to keep its NCAA Regional hopes alive.

Tuesday night showed great improvement for the offense, as the Wave rattled off 6 hits and scored 3 runs in the first three innings to beat Nicholls State 7-1 at Turchin Stadium. Tulane scored 7 runs on 12 hits thanks to strong performances from senior outfielder John Gandolfo and sophomore infielder Stephen Alemais.

Gandolfo carries a six-game hitting streak into this weekend’s series, and he has reached base for the last 16 consecutive games. Gandolfo also has five games with at least two RBIs this season. Stephen Alemais is a force in the leadoff spot with a team-leading 46 hits, having at least 2 hits in 15 games this season.

Tulane is now 14-3 on the season when scoring first in the game and 19-4 when scoring at least three runs. 

Game one of the three-game series against Houston begins 6:30 p.m. Friday in Houston. The Wave needs to keep the offense rolling to keep its chances of a NCAA Regional berth alive.