So what did Tulane’s stunning run through the American Athletic Conference tournament accomplish for the short-term and long-term health of a struggling baseball program?
Words mean little compared to actions in the era of the transfer portal, but coach Jay Uhlman, shortstop Gavin Schulz and third baseman Simon Baumgardt insisted the Green Wave could build on that accomplishment after back-to-back, one-sided losses last weekend in the Baton Rouge regional.
“This team learned a lot about adversity and failure and how to rebound,” said Schulz, a sophomore Holy Cross product who ended the regular season in a 3-for-41 slump but went 13 for 22 in seven games during the postseason. “We captured the first (AAC) tournament title in school history, so that just shows you how we didn’t give up on each other.
"We knew we had the talent. Things weren’t going our way all season, but that’s no reason to just fold over. We showed up every day with a good attitude, put the past behind us and got this thing where we wanted to go. We captured one of our goals of making a regional.”
Tulane’s 4-1 record in Clearwater, Florida, during the AAC tournament was the equivalent of an oasis in the Sahara Desert. The Wave finished 19-42 overall, surging past its previous record of 36 losses in a season set in 1990.
“I think all of us learned more than we wanted to this year just because of how things went,” said Baumgardt, a fourth-year junior who hit .277 with 13 home runs. “But that run towards the end, it was super fun for all of us, and it gives the young guys here an experience to be in a regional that is going to be very beneficial going forward.”
Retaining AAC tournament most outstanding player Teo Banks, .303-hitting first baseman Brady Marget and outfielder Jackson Linn will be critical. Banks said on a podcast before the regional he would return, and his two sophomore classmates have given no indication they will leave.
For Uhlman, though, the first order of business is fixing the woeful pitching he knew might be an issue. Tulane’s ERA of 7.08 was significantly worse than its highest mark on record (6.72) — also from 1990 — but the Wave lost two-thirds of its weekend rotation (Michael Massey and Grant Siegel) plus closer Zach DeVito to the transfer portal in between the firing of former coach Travis Jewett in mid-May of 2022 to Uhlman’s promotion in June from hitting coach/recruiting coordinator.
Their departures left the Wave with returning Friday starter Dylan Carmouche plus a host of unproven, mostly inexperienced arms. No one who threw more than an inning finished with an ERA below 5.44, but the Wave is bringing in a slew of newcomers and will count heavily on experienced junior-college transfers in 2024.
Uhlman hopes the regional appearance provided proof of the program’s potential.
“It’s the building block for the future,” he said. “I think it sends a signal to recruits, our current players, that when we are talking about being tough and we are talking about staying in the fight, those things actually really carry meaning and weight because we did it. It’s not just words; it's not hyperbole.”
The tournament title was Tulane’s first since 2005, when it was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced to its second College World Series under former coach Rick Jones. Uhlman emphasized the link to the Wave’s proud tradition and knows he is an incredibly long way from that vicinity after the school’s third regional berth in 14 years came only because of one big week.
Tulane also lost catcher Bennett Lee, who starts for No. 1 overall seed Wake Forest, and leading hitter Ethan Groff (Ole Miss) after last season. Uhlman expects the stability of having the same coaching staff back after the AAC conference tournament run to make a huge difference moving forward, despite losing 12 of 14 weekends before then.
“It's a huge building block for us,” he said. “You throw the record out of the window. There was still achievement when it mattered the most. And we did that in spite of a lot of odds. It speaks volumes to these guys’ resiliency.”