There was only one team that won 40 games in the American Athletic Conference last season. That team was the Tulane Green Wave, who quickly ascended to the upper echelon of the conference with back-to-back NCAA Tournament bids after a 23-29 finish in 2014, their last Conference-USA
As I said, for the second-straight season, the Tulane Green Wave enjoyed time in the NCAA Tournament in 2016.
Before the postseason, the team posted 11 series victories and took claim to the No. 1 seed in the AAC tourney. One of the few series the Green Wave dropped came against the Cincinnati Bearcats, who pitched their way to a 2-1 victory on April 15, lost a 1-0 pitching duel on April 16 and then blasted to a 7-4 decision on the last day of the series. It was the only time Tulane and UC tangled in 2016.
Non-UC games largely worked out much better for Tulane, obviously, as it finished the season 41-21 overall, including a league-best 15-7 mark against conference foes. The Green Wave were tough at home (25-10), but didn’t shy away when the venue switched, going 12-7 on the road and 4-4 in neutral site contests.
They hit a Texas-sized road block in the AAC tourney, though, falling to Houston twice as they failed to match their regular season crown with a conference tournament one.
In the NCAA Tournament, Tulane traveled to the Oxford Regional where Boston College took Houston’s place as the thorn in the Green Wave’s side. A 7-2 loss to the Eagles in the opening round forced Tulane to play on a thin line, and they walked it well the first two times, defeating Ole Miss and Utah before finally succumbing to BC once again on the final day of the regional.
However, perhaps the biggest news that came Tulane’s way in 2016 was the hiring of a new head coach, as former Vanderbilt associate head coach Travis Jewett joined the team last July.
Players to Watch
Hunter Williams, 1B
One of three players from Tulane to be named to the All-AAC preseason team, Williams is a slugging first baseman that does a bit more. He smashed nine home runs, led the team in slugging (.581) and drove in 30 runs, but also batted .294, which is the highest average by any returning player with more than 50 at-bats. He played in only 39 games last season, so a full slate should help him make an even greater positive impact.
Jake Willsey, 2B
The right side of the infield is in good hands with Willsey and Williams. The man at second slashed his way through a fine season (.267/.377/.535), smacking 10 home runs and as many doubles. He was also named a pre-season all-conference team member. Although he may be without his double play partner from last season, as Stephen Alemais (.311/.368/.401) has moved on, Willsey still makes the Green Wave tough up the middle.
Hunter Hope, 3B
Tulane will be ‘hunting’ for wins all season! OK. That’s the only pun for today.
Seriously, Hope is a very good third baseman and a cog in the lineup that led the AAC in home runs last season (66), despite ranking in the middle in terms of batting average (.264). Hope (.267/.357/.507) contributed the most to that home run total, with 14 dingers as well as 112 total bases, second-most on the team.
Jeremy Montalbano, C/DH
A real versatile contributor, Montalbano not only hit well (.269/.345/.500, 12 home runs, 45 RBI), he also pitched in six games and recorded an ERA of 2.57. He is obviously most useful for his work with the lumber, as he led the team in RBI, but its nice having him in a pinch to pitch.
Ross Massey, SP
No need to wonder who will get the ball on Friday’s as Massey finished off a stellar 2016 season with a 2.29 ERA and a 10-3 record. He threw two complete games and, even if he isn’t a big strikeout guy (51 in 90 1⁄3 innings), he is ready to step into the ace role after the departure of Emerson Gibbs.
Another solid starter for Tulane, which ranked second in team ERA among AAC teams (3.24) thanks to a deep pitching staff filled with players who can go long, go short and everything in between, France went 6-4 with a 3.33 ERA last season.
Tulane isn’t better than everyone in the AAC at everything, but it sure can launch bombs and pitch. Oh, and did I mention the Green Wave were the best fielding team in the conference last season, with a .973 tam fielding percentage? Personnel turnover (Alemais, Gibbs) will hurt them, but not enough to imagine they won’t be pushing for the AAC crown and the NCAA tourney once again.