Sept. 28, 2012
NEW ORLEANS - It was only 127 days ago that the players and coaches of the Tulane baseball program wandered one by one out of the James W. Wilson Center with an empty feeling after watching the NCAA Baseball Championship field announced on ESPNU. That feeling has stuck with many of them and is one that the 2013 edition of the Olive and Blue does not want to relive when the selection committee makes their selections to this year's championship field.
Ten seniors will enter their final season donning the Olive and Blue and the expectations are set in their mind entering their final fall of preparation.
"The whole mindset (entering the season) is that we have something to prove," said senior shortstop Brennan Middleton. "We are such a veteran (team) and we want to be able to leave our mark some way, somehow and we haven't been able to do that yet. We're basically as hungry as we've ever been to leave our mark on this program and do something of importance, other than win a lot of games. We've done that so far but we've yet to make the postseason. I think (making the NCAA Tournament) is the mindset this whole year."
Over the past three seasons Tulane has compiled a 101-70 overall record, but last season's 38-20 record was their best showing since the 2008 campaign when they reached the NCAA Tournament. A 14-10 record in Conference USA was good for a third place showing, but the team was unable to capitalize in the C-USA tournament as they went 1-2 with losses to #19 UCF and eventual tournament champion UAB after defeating East Carolina to open the pool play tournament.
"Being a part of our recruiting class has been really cool," said Middleton. "A lot of us grew up playing together, even before we came to Tulane. It's been really neat growing up with these guys and being able to go through the whole college experience. We know each other's tendencies and the camaraderie is incredible in the clubhouse, so I think that's going to work to our advantage this year."
The offense returns five starters that hits over .300 last season, led by Second Team All-Conference USA shortstop Brennan Middleton and All-Conference and Academic All-American Brandon Boudreaux, while seven players that started 30 or more games dot the roster. Along with Boudreaux and Middleton, head coach Rick Jones will survey a roster that features Garrett Cannizaro, Blake Crohan and Bowen Woodson, who have all appeared in 100-plus games in their careers.
"We are certainly locked, loaded and ready to go," said senior starting pitcher Alex Byo. "Being left out of the tournament last year still brings the fire back to our memories. I think we carry a lot of where we left off last year into fall practice right now. Knowing that we need to take this into our own hands and not leave any doubts in anyone's minds is something that we still think about."
On the mound it will be a lot of familiar faces taking the ball in situations that they are ready and willing to inherit. Only D.J. Ponder - the team leader in saves from 2012 - departed and the stable of returning arms stands at 12. Alex Byo, David Napoli and Andrew Reeves headline the starting rotation that owned a sub-4.00 ERA in over 300 innings of work last season. Byo claimed nine wins on the mound, Napoli earned All-Conference USA accolades after going 7-3 and Reeves threw nearly 50 innings after missing the first month of the season. Four other pitchers started at least four games on the mound, including Alex Massey (eight starts) and Randy LeBlanc (six starts).
The roster holds 36 players entering fall practice - including a pair of Green Wave football players that will join the team in the spring - and is the deepest and most versatile that it has been in recent years. Along with the 21 returning letterwinners, five transfer students and ten first year players will join the fold in 2013. Eighteen players are listed as pitchers, while 20 total student-athletes will be able to fill spots on the field.
"Everyone seems to have really gelled in the locker room," said senior outfielder Brandon Boudreaux, "we are just figuring out everyone's tendencies (on the field). As far as seniors kind of instilling (into the freshman) what we want in the program, we've already showed them that Tulane is going to be about hard work, making sure you get all your stuff done, making sure you're on time and prepared for everything, on and off the field."
This group has a mix of old and new, but one thing is for certain, the 2013 edition will not take things lightly from their opening practice on Oct. 2, 2012 through the final inning of their final game, whenever that might be.
"We all have to have an attitude of hard work," Boudreaux said, "and that nothing's going to be given to us. Nothing is going to be given to you, not in college, not in professional baseball, not in the business world, not anywhere."
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