Tulane-LSU Rivalry Renewed

Tuesday featured a veritable cornucopia of quality midweek games. Senior second baseman Tyler Mach had a huge day in Oklahoma State’s 10-3 win over Dallas Baptist, going 4-for-5 with a pair of homers, a double and five RBIs. Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez nearly matched Mach in the Commodores’ 8-0 win over Austin Peay, going 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and a triple in support of freshman lefthander Mike Minor, who picked up his first collegiate win with eight shutout innings, striking out eight and allowing just three hits. Out on the West Coast, Cal State Fullerton avenged last week’s 8-7 loss to San Diego State with a 9-8 win over the Aztecs; Pepperdine pounded UC Irvine 13-2 behind a pair of homers and six RBIs by third baseman Chase d’Arnaud; Arizona State blasted Arizona 22-8, led by seven RBIs for first baseman Brett Wallace; UC Riverside got five strong innings and seven strikeouts from senior lefty Marc Rzepczynski in his return from elbow soreness, and the Highlanders beat San Diego 9-4. Elsewhere, Georgia Tech’s pitching woes continued, as the Yellow Jackets fell 10-7 against Western Carolina despite a spirited comeback attempt.

And oh, by the way, the year’s first Tulane-Louisiana State game also happened yesterday. Two years ago, that would have been a major national event that everyone circled on their calendars. It might have lost some of that national luster now that LSU is in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, but the game still means plenty in the bayou.

“In this state, the rivalry between Tulane and Louisiana State transcends baseball,” Green Wave coach Rick Jones said. “But because we’ve both been very competitive in this sport it heightens the interest, and I don’™t think that’s waning. And it will continue to be that way. There’s just too much competition there. Last night was another example of that, they sold over 8,000 tickets, and it’s in February.”

Jones reported the atmosphere at Alex Box Stadium was just as electric last night as it has ever been, though the Tiger crowd was taken out of the game somewhat after Tulane jumped out to a 4-0 lead through 3 1/2 innings. Fifth-year senior righthander Matt Goebel made his first start in nearly three years for Tulane, after missing 2005 with a bone spur in his elbow and pitching sparingly in relief in 2006. Goebel pitched well, allowing just two runs–one earned–on two hits while striking out four over 4 1/3 innings of work as Tulane went on to an 8-3 win.

“Last year, he did not have his velocity and depth of breaking ball, then over the fall we started seeing it return slowly,” Jones said. “It took time, but it also took a major commitment on his part to the rehabilitation process. It was fun last night watching him. As bright a guy and experienced a guy and as talented a guy as he is, it helps us.”

Goebel, whose fastball is back into the high 80s and whose 12-to-6 curveball is showing good bite again, figures to continue to serve as Tulane’s midweek starter, helping to cushion the loss of senior J.R. Crowell, who had to abandon his rehabilitation from labrum surgery because of back pain. Eventually, freshman righthander Preston Claiborne could be a starter, because Jones said he has flashed three plus pitches at times. He worked 3 2/3 solid innings of relief last night and figures to stay in the bullpen for most of this season, complementing closer Daniel Latham.

“Fortunately right now we’ve got enough depth and experience with our staff that the role he’s in right now is a beneficial one for us,” Jones said of Claiborne. “He can flourish in that role.”