HOUSTON—On March 12, Tulane lost, 6-2, to San Diego, the final game of a four-game sweep at Turchin Stadium. The Green Wave, the 2016 American Athletic Conference champions, fell to 3-12.
Following that disappointing start, however, Tulane has rebounded. On Friday, Tulane defeated No. 24 Houston, 7-1, to open a key AAC series. The win was the Green Wave’s 17th in the 24 games since getting swept by San Diego, and pushed their record to 20-19, 8-2 in the AAC. Tulane holds a two-game lead in the conference standings over a pack of four teams, including Houston (25-12, 6-4) tied for second place.
The secret to the turnaround, coach Travis Jewett said, has been Tulane’s “stick-to-itiveness.”
“That actually is a word in the dictionary, we checked it out,” he said. “It’s perseverance and toughness and no give in, no give up.”
Jewett is in his first season as the Green Wave’s head coach. He was hired in July from Vanderbilt, where he spent four years as an assistant coach, to replace David Pierce, who was hired away earlier in the summer to become the head coach at Texas.
The change around the program, as well as some injuries during fall ball and in the preseason, likely contributed to the slow start. But Tulane has found itself over the last month and is now playing like it did last season, when it won its first conference title since 2005 and finished the year ranked No. 19.
While Jewett’s first team started slowly, it has found itself over the last month and is now playing like the Green Wave did last season, when they won their first conference title since 2005.
Jewett said he knew this team had the talent inside, it just hadn’t shown in the first few weeks.
“I told them when we were 3-12, ‘We don’t have any 3-12 people in this locker room, zero,’” Jewett said. “Just keep pounding and that’s what they did. I’m just proud of them. I can sit back and watch them do their thing.”
Tulane did that Friday at Houston. Righthander Corey Merrill delivered a strong start, scattering three hits and three walks over eight scoreless innings. The senior has been steady this season and improved to 6-2, 3.59.
Merrill said his control has been a key to his recent success.
“Fill up the zone, let the defense make the plays and you get good results,” he said. “I think the main thing is just focusing in on throwing a lot of strikes.”
The Green Wave gave Merrill plenty of support, collecting 12 hits, including six extra-base hits, and six walks. Second baseman Jake Willsey, the nine-hole hitter, homered in his last two plate appearances of the night to finish 3-for-4.
Willsey came into the game hitting .193/.297/.368, but he has appeared in all 39 of Tulane’s games, starting 37 times. Jewett said he has stuck with the senior all season.
“That’s me saying to him, ‘I trust you and you can do other things while you’re struggling with the bat,” Jewett said. “He plays really good defense, he’s a good base runner, he knows the game well, those intangible things. We just keep running him out there hoping for a moment like this. Not necessarily a homer, but some success.”
Jewett’s trust in Willsey was rewarded Friday, just as his trust in the Green Wave has been rewarded over the last month.
It still has work to do to get itself into position for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament—it ranked No. 75 in RPI after Friday’s win—but with its stick-to-itiveness, Tulane looks like a team that will be able to maintain its strong form throughout the season’s second half and contend for a second straight AAC title.