March 7, 2013
NEW ORLEANS - Tulane's baseball program will square off against an unfamiliar foe when they host High Point for a three-game weekend series at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Friday's contest will begin at 6:30pm CST, with Saturday's game being played at 2pm CST. The final game of the series will start at 1pm CST on Sunday.
The two teams have never faced one another in the history of their programs. High Point joined Division I in 1999 after stints in both Division II and the NAIA. Despite being a program the Green Wave have yet to face, Tulane head coach Rick Jones is familiar with the Panthers.
"High Point was my biggest rival when I was at Elon," said Jones, referencing his head coaching tenure at Elon from 1985-89. "Back in the days when we were both NAIA School, we were about 40 minutes from each other. I have some familiarity with them just from the fact of growing up in that state. My senior year in college (at UNC-Wilmington) we actually beat High Point to go to the NAIA World Series."
Tulane is coming into the weekend after playing Northwestern State twice during the midweek, defeating the Demons by a score of 3-0 on Tuesday and dropping Wednesday's tilt, 5-1. Tulane used a trio of freshman pitchers - Daniel Rankin, Emerson Gibbs and Ian Gibaut - to pitch eight shutout innings of relief on Tuesday for the win. On Wednesday, Tulane started redshirt sophomore Randy LeBlanc on the mound, and he pitched well, before giving up three runs in the sixth inning to the Demons.
High Point is 6-7 overall, having been swept by Big South conference rival Presbyterian College over the weekend. Prior to that, the Panthers took three straight from LIU-Brooklyn after losing a home contest to Charlotte. They opened the season at the Citadel Memorial Challenge, winning games against George Mason and the host time, while dropping the season opener at the tournament to Kansas State.
Senior Alex Byo will get the start on Saturday for the Green Wave. Byo earned his first win of the season last weekend for his performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide, striking out six over 7.1 innings. On the year, Byo is 1-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 16 strikeouts. Sean Townsley will man the mound for the Panthers during Saturday's contest. The left-handed redshirt junior has a record of 1-0 with a 5.65 ERA in 14.1 innings. He has allowed 16 hits and seven walks while punching out 14 this year.
Tulane has yet to officially name a starter for Sunday, but whoever takes the mound will be pitching against senior righty Jared Avidon, arguably the top pitcher for High Point. In 20.1 innings pitched, Avidon has posted a 2-1 record with a 2.21 ERA. He has given up 14 hits on the season and walked only five, while notching 13 strikeouts.
As a team, Tulane is batting just .246, but some individuals have put together solid numbers through the first 14 games of the season. Senior Brennan Middleton is hitting at a blistering pace, posting a .404 batting average and recording 23 hits. The Baton Rogue native leads Conference USA in the latter category, and he comes in at fourth in batting average. Junior Andrew Garner leads the team with 12 RBI, a figure that is good enough for a tie at fourth place on the conference leaderboards. Senior Garrett Cannizaro has notched five doubles on the year, which is tied for second overall in the conference.
High Point holds a team batting average of .283, led by Josh Spano's .451. Spano has also collected a home run on the year, and he is tied for second on the team with eight RBIs. Ryan Retz is the pole setter for RBIs with nine, and he also carries a batting average of .318. They are the only two players to bat .300 on the team that have started all 13 contests for the Panthers this year.
High Point's pitching staff has posted an ERA of 3.89. Other than the aforementioned starters, Retz has done a solid job in the rotation, starting two games and striking out eight while allowing no earned runs in 15 innings of play. As a team, the Panthers have notched 76 strikeouts and 37 walks.
Craig Cozart is in his fifth year as the head coach for the Panthers. He is 1996 graduate of Central Florida, and he holds a career record of 105-125.
After the game on Sunday, Green Wave student-athletes will shave their heads to raise awareness for pediatric cancer. The team has been raising funds for the Vs. Cancer Foundation, an organization that Jones' nephew Chase Jones recently founded. Chase Jones is a pediatric cancer survivor, being diagnosed with a brain tumor during his freshman year of college at the University of North Carolina.
The Vs. Cancer Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving kids' lives by empowering athletes and communities to fund lifesaving childhood cancer efforts. The money raised by Tulane's athletes will be split in half, with one half going to fund research at the national level and the other half going to a local childhood cancer hospital.
Saturday and Sunday's games will be broadcast on 106.1 The Ticket, Tulane baseball's new flagship station. Friday's contest will be made available to All-Access members on TulaneGreenWave.com. Live stats will be made available throughout the weekend at TulaneGreenWave.com
You can follow the Tulane baseball program on Twitter (@GreenWaveBSB) or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/GreenWaveBaseball.