Feb. 20, 2008
NEW ORLEANS, La. - Some say that a good team is a lot like a good musical group. Both have loyal fans, both travel around the country on a tight schedule, both make good use of their instruments, and both strive to be tops on the charts.
The closest most members of the 2008 Tulane University baseball team may ever come to success in the music industry may be a solid night playing Guitar Hero in their apartment. The schedule features almost 60 percent home games rather than the new-city-every-night approach of a traveling band. And instead of guitars, drums and keyboards, the Wave uses bats, balls and gloves.
But in the end, like musicians performing a concert, the Green Wave know that it will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears to whip the crowd into a frenzy and send them home happy. It will also take each player playing their part to attain the goal of being No. 1 when the final out is recorded in the College World Series.
And while no one will ever confuse the Green Wave for a rock group any time soon, the team will have an anthem that everyone will associate with the 2008 season - The Boys Are Back In Town. Whether you prefer the Thin Lizzy version or the jazzy single from The Bus Boys, the boys are back home this year as Tulane will play on campus for the first time since 2005. After playing the last two seasons nearly 20 minutes away in Metairie, the Green Wave will open the brand new, state-of-the art Greer Field at Turchin Stadium in 2008 - a facility that will be second to none anywhere in college baseball.
"After really being in a nomadic state the last two years, this is a return to our routine, a return to our sense of normalcy, and also a return to bigger and better things," Tulane head baseball coach Rick Jones said. "Not only is it an exciting time, but I think it's a great reward. There is a great anticipation toward opening night and, for me, it's going to be one of the greatest nights in my life."
Of the returning players, the Green Wave bring a pair of top pitchers in 2007 first-team All-Conference USA honoree Shooter Hunt and 2007 C-USA All-Freshman Team member Preston Claiborne. Junior catcher Jared Dyer is the team's top returning hitter after batting .300 in 2007. Junior outfielder Aja Barto also returns after leading the club last season with six home runs while chipping in 28 RBI and seven stolen bases, while fellow junior outfielder Warren McFadden returns two years removed from earning C-USA Freshman of the Year recognition. Other returning starters are Anthony Scelfo - who will see time both in the infield and outfield after playing exclusively in left last year - and Seth Henry - who will likely move to second after playing third base during his first two seasons at Tulane.
"We're basically a junior/freshmen laden club," Jones said. "Our strategy was to not only try and get as talented a class as we could but a mature class and so you're talking about eight transfers - six juniors and two sophomores. We were just trying to get back to the experience level that we would've had had we not had the storm. But while it is a new club, it's more veteran and a lot of our guys that we counted on last year as sophomores are now juniors."
Shortstop Josh Prince, southpaw Matt Petiton and right-handed pitcher Josh Zeid come to Tulane from Texas, North Carolina and Vanderbilt, respectively, while outfielders Drew Allain (Delgado CC) and Andrew Rodgers (Navarro JC), infielder Sam Honeck (Grayson CC), catcher Steve Moritz (Grayson CC) and closer Mason Griffin (Grayson CC) join the Green Wave program via the JuCo route.
Highlighting the list of true freshman on the roster are local products Robby Broach (RHP/INF) and Kirk Cunningham (OF/RHP) of Archbishop Rummel, catcher Karl Mundt of Mandeville High School, outfielder Nick Boullosa of Covington High and infielder Matt Ryan of Jesuit. Utility athlete Rob Segedin (Old Tappan, N.J./Northern Valley Regional HS) and right-hander Nick Pepitone (Katy, Texas/Katy HS) round out the Green Wave's freshman class.
"I thought we needed an infusion of new players to help us," Jones said. "The thing is if you've got new players, it comes down to what kind of guys you have. Based on the years I've been coaching, I think I have a feel for this and we've got a lot of new players in our program who are very appreciative and excited to be here. They believe this is a great opportunity and its' not as much about what the program can do for them as much as what they can do for the program and I love that."
The 2008 pitching staff once again figures to be a strong point as the Green Wave return nine of the 13 hurlers to see time last year, including starter Shooter Hunt. With the shortened schedule and the Wave having to play five games in a week six times throughout the upcoming season, pitching will be at a premium. Fortunately, Tulane is armed and ready.
"Having to play five games in a week changes things because if you pitch a guy on Wednesday then you've pretty much lost him for the weekend," Jones said. "There are some midweek games that are just as important to your RPI, if not more so than weekend games. It's going to tax us, and it's going to create strategy differences. Some people will go to a four-man rotation, but I don't think we'll do that at this point. We'll stay with a 5-man. You've got to see how the personnel fit in and how guys bounce back.
"We have a track record with scouts and agents across the country, advisors across the country, of not overworking pitchers. That's one of the reasons we've had a lot of success. That's one of the reasons we've had a lot of pitchers come to us. The first and foremost thing is going to be protecting the pitcher while trying to win the ball game, and that's a balancing act that we will have to strive to achieve."
Hunt will anchor the unit after earning first-team All C-USA honors last year. His 2.62 ERA was the lowest by a Tulane starter since 1997, his .232 opponent batting average is tops among returning C-USA hurlers, and his 104 strikeouts ranked second among returning league pitchers.
While Tulane will have to replace a pair of weekend starters, Loup and Broach figure to assume their roles in 2008. Loup came on strong at the end of last year, finishing 2-1 with a 4.23 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 35.0 innings. That progression continued over the summer where he was named No. 1 Pro Prospect in the Clark Griffith League by Baseball America after leading the league in wins (eight), ERA (0.98), and innings pitched (tied at 55.0) while ranking second in strikeouts (63).
Broach, meanwhile, comes to Tulane with an impressive prep résumé which includes two first-team all-state certificates, a pair of District MVP trophies and three first-team all-district distinctions during his time at nearby Archbishop Rummel High School. Last season, Broach fanned 100 and allowed just six earned runs in 63.1 innings.
"Shooter had just a terrific year last season," Jones said. "We just didn't support him very well, but his credit, he really handled that well. He's just one of those guys. He's very resilient along with being real talented. He's a tone-setter. Aaron Loup made the greatest strikes in our program last year. Couple that with the summer and fall that he had, and the fact that he's a lefty, he really changes the look from Shooter from Friday night to Saturday. Robby Broach obviously comes in highly touted. He had a great fall for us and he has a chance to be very, very special."
Another key spot on the staff that has to be filled is the closer's position where Tulane and C-USA record holder Daniel Latham has graduated and moved on to the ranks of pro baseball. Mason figures to step into that role and brings a junior college resume that includes a pair of all-conference trophies, 18 saves, six wins, 53 strikeouts and a 2.06 ERA in 70.0 innings at Grayson.
"I have been very, very impressed with our new closer, Mason Griffin," Jones said. "He has a great closing mentality with that side-arm, submarine arm slot, and he comes in with a lot of success under his belt as a junior college player. We've had a track record here with closers. I really believe Mason Griffin is going to be able to give us a real solid backing in the bullpen."
Claiborne was a solid set-up man for the Wave last season when he led the bullpen with 45 strikeouts and 45.2 innings while posting a pair of saves in 28 appearances. Rogers posted a victory and 11 strikeouts in 20.0 innings as a true freshman while Zizinia held opponents to a .273 and posted a 3.00 ERA in 18.00 frames in 2007. The trio figure to play major roles in the upcoming year, and both Connick and Garrett will add even more depth after having solid workouts in the fall.
Petiton and Zeid were both high school All-Americans. Pepitone was named to the All-District 18-5A Team as a junior and senior, and claimed first-team all-state honors as a senior when he posted a 6-0 record with a 0.32 ERA. Segedin follows in the long line of two-way players to sign with Tulane and is coming off a senior season at North Valley Regional (N.J.) High when he went 10-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 64 strikeouts.
A wild-card factor for the 2008 season is the healthy return of Martin. As a sophomore in 2006, Martin went 6-0 with a 2.32 ERA, 37 strikeouts and a .242 opponent batting average in 62.0 innings. He appeared in just one game last year, has worked hard to get back and had a solid fall season.
"Josh Zeid and Matt Petiton both had encouraging falls for us," Jones said. "Petiton ended up being a lefty with an outstanding change-up. He is a guy that could really change the look for us. They're both going to have to pitch well for us and we expect them to do that because both of them have the ability.
"Drew Zizinia worked with Coach (Chad) Sutter and learned a slider. That, along with a fastball in the 90s makes him a much more viable guy for our staff. Jonathan Garrett had an improved fall and was throwing with a lot of velocity, and Taylor Rogers had a solid fall and showed signs of having the ability to really give us a lot of top quality. We got better falls from Peter Connick and Hunter Johnson, two lefties that can change the look. Trey Martin is coming off the arm injury last year and has been very sound so far this spring. If Trey is back to form, that just bolsters our bullpen so much."
Tulane returns half of its catching tandem from last season in Jared Dyer, who is also the team's top returning hitter. In addition, the Green Wave return senior Grayden Griener and redshirt-freshman Andrew Robinson, and adds the talents of junior college transfers Drew Allain and Steve Moritz along with true freshman Karl Mundt.
"Jared had surgery on his wrist as soon as the season was over and he came back a different guy," Jones said. "He had the best offensive stats on our team this fall, he swung the bat very well, caught well, and threw better. I'm thinking you're going to see a more mature and certainly a healthier player out of him. He came on late last year, but the key here is that we don't run him in the ground.
"With 5 games a week, you're going to have to have some depth back there. You can't catch a guy 5 nights in a row so you're going to see more than one catcher during the course of the week."
Allain joins the Tulane program following a stellar junior college career at nearby Delgado where he hit .318, posted 21 extra-base hits and drove in 60 runs and helped lead the Dolphins to the NJCAA World Series. During the summer, he earned All-Clark Griffith League honors after hitting .356 with a team-best 10 doubles. Moritz, meanwhile, was a two-year starter at Grayson County College where he helped the Vikings to a combined 78-36 record, including a 43-13 record in 2007. He was named first-team all-conference last season after ranking third on the team in on-base percentage (.553) and finishing fourth on the club in batting average (.405) to go along with 10 doubles, a home run, 25 RBI and 30 walks.
"Drew Allain is an outfielder by trade, but he can also catch," Jones said. "He's a guy you may see behind the plate a lot. He did a good job at catching at Delgado and can swing the bat. Steve Moritz had a really solid defensive fall. Offensively, he looks like he's improving. And certainly Grayden Greiner can always go back there and give you a solid performance as he's done for us more than once."
Robinson served as the Green Wave's bullpen catcher in 2007, and Mundt joins the fold following a standout prep career at Northlake Christian School where he helped lead the Wolverines to the state playoffs and claimed All-District 7-1A honors all four seasons. Both are expected to provide quality depth to the catcher's position.
The Tulane infield will have a new look in 2007 as three of last year's starters - first baseman Tim Guidry, second baseman Brad Emaus and shortstop Cat Everett - have either graduated or moved on to pro baseball. The 2008 infield, however, will be more of a reloading effort rather than a rebuilding project.
"Seth Henry has done it all for us," Jones said. "He's a guy who's certainly been an everyday player for us in the past, but he is also someone who I think is ready to take another step offensively. Defensively, he's one of the better defensive players we've had since I've been here and he's very versatile."
Joining him will be a trio of newcomers as Grayson County College product Sam Honeck is penciled in to start at first, University of Texas transfer Josh Prince figures to line up at short, and true freshman Rob Segedin will take over duties at the hot corner.
Honeck is a two-time All-North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference honoree after hitting .362 with 20 home runs in two seasons at Grayson. During the summer, he claimed All-Clark Griffith League honors and was named the No. 5 pro prospect in the CGCBL by Baseball America.
Prince joins the Wave after earning Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America honors at Texas where he hit .371 with seven doubles and 16 RBI. A product of one of the nation's most successful prep programs, Barbe High School, Prince was a two-time all-state selection and hit .425 for the Bucs as a senior.
Segedin, meanwhile, joins the Tulane team after a prep career where he set the New Jersey state record with 181 hits. The New Jersey Hitter of the Year and first-team all-state and all-county selection his final two seasons at Northern Valley Regional High, he hit .520 with four home runs and 31 RBI as a senior.
"Josh Prince transferred, he had elbow surgery at the end of the fall and now he's throwing like the guy that was out at Texas last year," Jones said. "He can really run the bases, he's fast, and we can expect him to give us a lot of help maybe in the lead-off spot playing the middle of the infield. He's got a lot of tools and a lot of range. When you put Seth there with him, those guys are in the same mold of the middle infielders we've had in the past.
"Sam Honeck has a chance to be very special. He's a left-handed guy, solid defender, and a prototypical first baseman who can hit and hit with power. I think you're going to see some special things out of him. Then we have Rob Segedin at third. I'm really excited about him. He's a highly-talented freshman with a great attitude and a hard work ethic." Other players expected to push for playing time around the infield in 2008 are senior Rustin Rebowe, juniors Anthony Scelfo and Johnny Weiss, and true freshmen Kirk Cunningham and Matt Ryan.
Rebowe and Scelfo both initially came to Tulane as infielders, but spent the majority of their careers patrolling the outfield. Rebowe showed his power last season, hitting a grand slam against Southeastern Louisiana, while Scelfo has been a steady hitter from the left side of the plate.
Weiss has played first, second and third base during his time with the Green Wave, and played shortstop during his freshman season at Boston College. His versatility and ability to swing the bat will make him a viable option when called upon. Cunningham helped lead local power Archbishop Rummel High School to the playoffs all four years as a prepster and claimed all-district honors last season after hitting .393 with 2 doubles, five home runs and 36 RBI. Ryan, meanwhile, hit .419 for nearby Jesuit High School en route to earning all-state and all-district honors.
"We brought Anthony Scelfo back in the infield," Jones said. "We know we can run him in the outfield any time we want to, but he looked really good in early spring practice at third and second and we think he's going to be an offensive guy for us. Rustin can play the outfield or infield. He's never been healthy in his career, but he's finally healthy so he gives us some added depth.
"Jonny Weiss hasn't been healthy for a couple years, either, got hurt after he got off to a great start in 2006, and has just never was 100 percent. Johnny can play third, short or second, and if he gets his swing back to where it was prior to the injury, he will be a valuable player for us in 2008."
The Green Wave returns a pair of starting outfielders from a year ago in the form of juniors Aja Barto and Warren McFadden while senior Grayden Griener and Scott Powell also return with a combined seven seasons in the Green Wave program. During the offseason, the outfield talent got even higher with the addition of junior college transfers Drew Allain and Andrew Rodgers, as well as freshmen Nick Boullosa.
McFadden suffered through an injury-plagued sophomore season, but still managed to lead the team with 14 doubles while hitting a respectable .296. In 2006, McFadden was named C-USA and Louisiana Freshman of the Year after hitting a team-best .380 with 24 doubles, and the Wave will count on him to return to form in his junior season. Allain, who will also see time behind the plate, brings a solid hitting approach to the table and has an outstanding arm in right.
"The outfield is also crowded and extremely talented," Jones said. "Aja Bartow is probably our best outfielder. He can run, he can track the ball, and his throwing has gotten much better. If Aja hits for average he's going to be a high draft pick, simple as that because he's got power and he can run the bases.
"Warren McFadden had a really good fall for us and looks healthy playing in left fieldIn right field, and Drew Allain is a really solid guy and a good runner. He can play the outfield well and has a really solid throwing arm."
Like Allain, Griener may see time behind the plate but is expected to play primarily in the outfield. The third member of his family to play baseball under Jones, Griener's leadership has been noticed by several players around the program and was named team captain for 2008. Powell also returns and possesses blazing speed. Last season, he scored six runs and stole three bases as a pinch-runner, but really came on in the fall when he hit .313 with six RBI and seven stolen bases.
Rodgers brings a powerful bat to the lineup following a solid junior college career at Navarro (Texas) College where he hit .370 (136-for-368) with 11 home runs and 101 RBI. Boullosa, meanwhile, is another speedster who set the Covington High record with 133 career stolen bases while hitting .374 with 59 RBI and 118 runs scored.
"Scott Powell was our most improved outfielder in the fall," Jones said. "He can run, he's a solid thrower, can run the bases, really solid defender and gives a step there. And Grayden Greiner is so versatile that he can play anywhere. Rodgers really, really looks like he's a guy who's a middle of the line-up type hitter, and Nick Boullosa can really run. He's a left-handed guy who is still making the adjustment to college, but once he makes the transition, he's going to be a guy that's going to push for a position."
"Its unsettled out there, but we've got real quality depth. We can run in the outfield and I think we've got some pop out there as well."
The 2008 schedule figures to be a challenging one for the Green Wave as Tulane will play a combined 21 games against 11 teams that advanced to the NCAA Regionals in 2007, including College World Series participants Rice and UC-Irvine. Eleven of the Green Wave's first 13 games in 2008 will be against NCAA postseason teams of a year ago, including a three-game season-opening series against Illinois-Chicago in New Orleans.
Other 2007 NCAA Regional opponents on Tulane's 2008 schedule are East Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Pepperdine, Southern Miss and TCU.
"We're really being challenged early with 11 of the first 13 games we play against teams that made the NCAA Tournament last year," Jones said. "Conference USA has quickly become one of the premier leagues in the country and we're going to have to be ready to play every day, there's no question about that."
The Wave will play 36 of its 56 regular-season contests at the new Greer Field at Turchin Stadium, and first pitch of the 2008 season is slated for Friday, Feb. 22, when the Green Wave open a three-game series against Illinois-Chicago. Tulane will also play a three-game, non-conference weekend series against UC-Irvine from March 7-9, Oakland (Mich.) from March 14-16 and Sacred Heart from March 21-23.
Tulane's home C-USA slate features series against Marshall (April 4-6), Southern Miss (April 18-20), UCF (May 2-4) and Rice (May 15-17). The Green Wave will also play host to its usual slate of midweek contests against in-state foes Southeastern Louisiana (Feb. 26), Louisiana-Lafayette (Feb. 27), Southern (March 5), Northwestern State (March 11-12), McNeese State (April 1) and Nicholls State (April 8, April 29). In addition to the annual two-game series against arch-rival LSU (March 19 in Baton Rouge, April 22 in New Orleans), and a three-game WOW Café & Wingery Cup series against cross-town foe UNO (March 4 and May 6 on campus, April 9 at Maestri Field).
The Green Wave's road schedule begins with the Dairy Queen Classic at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., against Pepperdine (Feb. 29), host Minnesota (March 1) and vs. TCU (March 2) and Tulane will also play C-USA weekend tilts at UAB (March 28-30), at Houston (April 11-13), at Memphis (April 25-27) and at East Carolina (May 9-11). Tulane will also play midweek road games at Southeastern Louisiana on March 25, at Nicholls State on April 2, and at Southern on May 7.
At the conclusion of the regular season, Tulane's new on-campus stadium will host the 2008 C-USA Tournament with the winner of the double-elimination event earning the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals.