Wave Rolls In

Tulane and Ole Miss renew their baseball series this weekend in Oxford. The Green Wave has been here before.

Tulane won the first NCAA Regional played at Oxford-University Stadium in 2004 and returned to participate in the NCAA Regional of 2006.

Before and between those appearances on Swayze Field, the Green Wave went to the College World Series - in 2001 and 2005.

The Rebels took two of three games in New Orleans last season, winning the first two meetings 6-4 and 5-1, before Tulane came away with a 12-4 decision on Sunday.

Coach Rick Jones, in his 18th season at Tulane, said his 2011 team is still learning about itself. They've pitched very well so far.

"That's been a very pleasant surprise, because that was our downfall last year, especially in conference play," Jones said, his team at 7-2 on the season with a staff ERA of 2.25. "So to pitch early as well as we have has been good."

In game one, RHP Conrad Flynn will make his 31st career start - all coming in series opening games - and looks to pick up his first win of the campaign. RHP Randy LeBlanc will make his third start of the year on Saturday and look to improve on his team-best 14 strikeouts. The freshman owns a 3.27 ERA. RHP Robby Broach will toe the rubber on Sunday and is the only weekend starter with a win on his resume this year. Broach has allowed just two runs on nine hits in 11 innings of work in two starts.

"Flynn's a senior and Broach is a redshirt junior," Jones said. "So those guys have experience and have been around the program. Neither are dominant arms as far as velocity. But both have their days that when they're on, they can manage the breaking ball and their offspeed pitches and pitch to contact pretty consistently in the zone.

"LeBlanc is a freshman who was highly recruited and highly touted and rightly so. But he is a freshman," Jones continued. "He's going to throw in the low 90s and does feature a good changup and a good breaking ball, if it's consistent. One game it was and one game it wasn't. He's a legit three-pitch guy."

Matt Smith
Courtesy: Matthew Sharpe
Alex Facundus and Nick Pepitone have been the duo out of the bullpen for the Green Wave, with Facundus leading Conference USA with three wins - all in relief - and Nick Pepitone pacing the conference with four saves. The Green Wave bullpen owns a 2.70 ERA in 30 innings of work and are holding opposing hitters to just a .219 batting average, while walking 14 and fanning 24.

At the plate, Tulane has struggled. As a team, the Green Wave is hitting .220 as a team and is averaging 4.2 runs and 6.7 hits per game overall.

"We've been very anemic offensively, and our numbers bear that out," Jones said. "Offensively we're way behind where we need to be at this point. We've had guys who put up better numbers last year, so we believe it will get better. But you can't hit in the low 200s and be consistent as far as wins are concerned because it puts way too much pressure on the pitching staff."

As with all teams, including Ole Miss early in the season, Tulane has interchanged some players to get the best combination on the field.

"Defensively we've not been very good early," Jones said. "We've moved some people around and tried to find out some things, some of it trying to get our offense better. We've tried some guys here or there to see if they can handle some things. So I think our defense is better than it's showed. Our numbers there have started to improve."

Jones is viewing this weekend a lot like Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco did last weekend when the Rebels played a weekend series at Houston, also a Conference USA member.

"We play in front of good crowds at home, but this (Oxford) will take it to another level," Jones said. "That's because of the venue and the support they have here. Having been here and won a Regional here and come back again two years later, I have a feel for what the atmosphere is like. I think it will do a good job in giving our guys some preparation for what goes on later in the year."

Rebel Diamond Notes:

*** Pitchers R.J. Hively and Bobby Wahl continue to rehab sore arms. Don't look for either to pitch this weekend, and Wahl not for at least several more games. Hively could be ready by the midweek next week when Western Kentucky comes to Oxford for two games.

*** Matt Smith, out the previous two games with a arm soreness, played Wednesday night in the Rebels' 11-3 win against Austin Peay. He was at first base. He should be ready for this weekend but it is day to day to see how his arm feels.

*** Eric Sauls, a junior outfielder who has played in five of the Rebels' first ten games, won't be available this weekend. He had what might be described as a freak accident Monday.

Sauls was running on Monday and while looking down at his iPod to find another song, ran into one of the entrance gates at the stadium. It knocked him off his feet and he fell backward and hit his head, seemingly knocking him out. He spent Monday night in the hospital, was discharged on Tuesday, and is doing better. He might be able to play next week.

"He won't be released by the doctor until Monday," Bianco said of the next step for Sauls.

*** Ole Miss, 9-1 so far this season, and Tulane were in the same conference from 1933 through 1966. Then Tulane left the Southeastern Conference. Their first meeting in baseball was in 1898. Ole Miss leads the all-time series 82-42-2.

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