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Boston College Vs. Tulane (NCAA Regional): First Pitch

After a week-long celebration, it's business time in Oxford.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Boston College Eagles vs. Tulane Green Wave
First Pitch: 4 PM

When the season began in the winter, there was no way of predicting Boston College would rank as one of ten ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament. That's where they are, though, and after a week of celebrating a moment of glory, the Eagles now turn their attention to the business at hand.

It's been great to watch the team soak in the moment, taking turns in front of media cameras and talking about what it means to be here. It's been fun to watch them board a private charter jet, taking in the rewards normally reserved for bigger, more established programs. It's been great, more than anything, to simply feel good about a Boston College team competing for a national championship on a major stage.

Now it's time to play ball.

The week of celebrating is over, and the weekend of baseball is simply beginning. The next three days are going to be a more stressful, uncertain time than anything anyone's ever experienced. The field of 64 will be culled to 16 by the end of the weekend, with the first eliminations less than 24 hours away.

For Tulane, this is a chance. The Green Wave are a regular season champion of a very good baseball conference, but a loss to BC and a quick exit from a regional among power conference schools would only further a discussion of the chasm between the ACC, SEC, and non-power leagues. In the same breath, they're also a very good baseball school with a storied tradition going up against a team that nobody thought would be here.

For BC, it's also a chance. The Eagles have a chance to prove they belong with the big boys of their league, that they're not a one-shot wonder that got hot and lucky at the right time. BC has a chance to take down a legitimate baseball power, a team with College World Series trips in its history. They have a chance to establish that their ACC affiliation is deserved, and it's an opportunity, once and for all, to silence critics of northern college baseball.

This is the first step of a long weekend ahead. Whether that long weekend is two games, four games, or through to Monday depends on what happens today. The NCAA Tournament starts now.

On Paper

Overall: 39-19 (15-7 American Athletic Conference)
Last Time Out: The top seed in the AAC Tournament, Tulane won the regular season championship and earned a second seed as the 22nd-ranked team in the nation. But they bowed out in the semifinals of the league bracket after losing to the Houston Cougars, 6-2.

The Green Wave only played two teams in the conference tournament, beating Central Florida twice and losing to Houston twice. In the first round, they defeated UCF, 4-3, to advance to the second round. That's when they absorbed their first loss, dropping a 5-3 decision to the fifth-seeded Cougars. Dropped into the loser's bracket, they beat the Golden Knights again, 5-0, to move to the semifinals.

Around The Horn

The Green Wave aren't the best hitting team in the regional, but they're definitely not the worst. They're a top-to-bottom lineup very much like BC, entering on a .267 clip. They have only one regular player, Stephen Alemais, with an average of.300 or better, and while they've scored 340 runs, they only scored 10 runs or more once after the calendar switched over to May (they beat Southern at home, 14-2, in a non-conference game).

That doesn't mean this is a pushover lineup, but BC is going to catch a glimpse at a team that goes totally boom-or-bust. After Alemais, there's a drop to Jake Willsey's .281, but the averages taper off from there. Nobody in their regular lineup hits less than .260. But they've hit 60 homers, meaning they love going yard. That means the game can escalate on a pitcher incredibly quickly, and one bad pitch can go 400 feet the wrong way.

One thing to watch in this game will be catcher Nick Sciortino against the Green Wave's running abilities. Alemais and catcher Jake Rogers are a combined 29-34 in stolen base attempts, with Rogers going a perfect 12-12. Down the rest of the lineup, Lex Kaplan is 6-6, with Richard Carthon at 5-7 and Grant Witherspoon at 5-8.

For all the criticism levied at the BC offense, the Eagles enter the game against Tulane with a team batting average of .266. Scott Braren's .322 average leads the way, but Michael Strem's .306 is more of a season-long consistency. From there, BC drops to .289 with Logan Hoggarth before tapering through to Jake Palomaki at .274. The power numbers are still down, but they were never really coming back up anyways. That's not the type of game the Eagles play.

One thing that'll be interesting to watch is the return of Donovan Casey. Before breaking his hand against Virginia, Casey was hitting .276 with nine RBI and a .342 on-base percentage. Putting him back in the lineup means Gabe Hernandez becomes the first option off the bench. Hernandez could be a factor late in games if BC decides to make defensive changes behind its pitching staff.

On The Bump

Tulane will send senior Emerson Gibbs to the hill against the BC lineup for the regionals opener. Gibbs led the Green Wave with 15 starts, going 6-3 with a 2.44 ERA. In 103.1 innings, he threw two complete games and struck out a good chunk of batters he faced, mowing them down at about a 4:1 ratio (83 strikeouts to just 22 walks). It should be fun to watch him go toe-to-toe with Justin Dunn, especially since Gibbs is by far the best starter against opposing hitters (.215 opponent's batting average).

Gibbs is likely to eat up some innings against BC, but if they need to go to the bullpen, this is a pitching staff with a number of guys capable of locking down lineups. Of the relievers, a number of guys drew staff starts and logged a good amount of innings; an example is Corey Merrill, who started five of his 14 appearances while throwing 49.2 innings. He went 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA and three saves.

A number of guys outside of the regular rotation have opponent's batting averages below .200, making runs and base runners at a premium. It'll drive people crazy, but get ready for some small ball out of the Eagles.

Speaking of those Eagles, they'll send Justin Dunn in the first game. Dunn didn't throw in the ACC Tournament, last pitching when he threw a complete game victory over Georgia Tech two weeks ago. This is a moment where he has to sense that moment with the eyes of the nation watching him. Against a guy like Gibbs, he'll need to hit his spots, and you get the sense that this is a guy ready to, as HOV himself would put it, "reintroduce myself."

It'll be interesting to see who BC uses as the first option out of the bullpen and if they reconfigure the back end of the staff. Jesse Adams transitioned into the closer's role when they moved Dunn into the starting spot, but there's a chance they need him this weekend as a fourth starter. If that's the case, big spots will be given to guys like Bobby Skogsbergh, Zach Stromberg, Brian Rapp, and John Witkowski. One of these guys is going to have a chance to really make his name on a national stage.

Meteorology 101

The forecast is calling for "scattered thunderstorms" in Mississippi, with temperatures touching into the 80s and some sick humidity on the way. It's going to be soupy, and it's going to be very different from the way the games were played down the stretch in Boston. It's not unlike when the weather got weird in Atlanta.

It doesn't seem like the rain is going to be a factor, but I'm willing to bet it can get really dicey really quickly. For BC's sake, you have to hope that doesn't impact the starting pitchers. An extended rain delay in the fourth inning can end a starter's day really quickly, and it forces a coach to play a game of chess requiring impossibly difficult decisions.

Don't worry about wind. The forecast says it'll be dead.

Where in the World is Boston College Baseball?

Welcome to Oxford, Mississippi, home of the University of Mississippi and the Ole Miss Rebels.

The games this weekend will be played at Oxford-University Stadium at Swayze Field. Named in honor of former head coach Tom Swayze, not Patrick, which is what I first thought. Like so many other fields in the SEC, it's a thing of beauty.

The stadium was built in 1988 to the cost of $3.75 million but has undergone a number of changes throughout its history. In 1993, the school erected stands in right field for the student body, who had developed into a rabid following for the team. In 2000, they added added picnic tables and barbecue areas.

In 2003, Ole Miss opened a 6,800-square foot indoor hitting facility, enabling them to convert their original batting tunnel into an indoor pitching area. In 2006, they added a video board.

All of that was done before an $18 million renovation in 2009 that added club suites, a new press box, new grandstands, and new box seats.

They replaced the video board most recently, putting in an HD screen in '11.

Ole Miss enjoys one of the best home field advantages in the nation. Routinely bringing in over 8,000 fans, they have a capacity for upwards of 10,000 or more. The students, who congregate in right field, they heckle opposing outfielders and celebrate home runs and walkoffs with "beer showers."

Don't forget that this is the same school that has The Grove.

Music To Dream About Championships With

Guns N' Roses - Welcome to the Jungle.

I don't know how the atmosphere is going to be for a neutral site game between BC and Tulane, but I know that this is the type of atmosphere that the Eagles have to savor and enjoy. It's the biggest stage, and even though they're not the most talented team, they're a battle-hardened and tested roster that's at its best with its back to the wall.

I'll always have the feeling that making the ACC Tournament was a great feeling, but the Eagles were simply out of gas against Georgia Tech in that first round game. They didn't have anything in the tank, not after what it took to get to that point.

In making the NCAA Tournament, they've been given new life. The Eagles feel rejuvenated and reenergized. They've had time to digest their loss in Durham, feel the anticipation, stress, and elation of making the field of 64. Now they head to Oxford ready to go.

When BC is juiced up, there are few teams who can match their intensity. As a team, no other school is as close-knit as the Eagles.

Random Fact(s) Of The Week

Tulane is a ridiculously good team in the later innings. In the sixth through eighth innings, they've outscored opponents 156-85, including a 50-19 edge in the eighth. But they've struggled at times in the early going, only holding a +6 edge in the third inning, a +5 edge in the fourth inning. In ninth inning situations, they're tied, 21-21, with opponents.

Like so many other games this season, this is a battle of who has the lead late. Tulane is 29-4 when leading after six, 31-3 when leading after seven, and 35-2 when leading after eight. Conversely, they're 4-12 when trailing after six, 2-15 when trailing after seven, and 1-16 when trailing after eight.

Compare that with BC, who is 30-3 when leading or tied after six and 30-1 when leading or tied after eight. When the Eagles trail after six, they're 1-17 and they have not made a ninth inning comeback all year, going 0-19 in said situations.

What makes BC the "Cardiac Kids of Chestnut Hill" is their ability to win one-run games. The Eagles are 12-3 in one-run games. Tulane, to their credit, has had success in the same category, going 10-6.

When BC scores first, they're 26-8. When Tulane scores first, they're 28-9.

On an individual level, this is going to be an incredible run at history. Justin Dunn is in position to set the single-season program record for ERA, entering this weekend at 1.35. Joe Cronin needs one more walk to set the career record for free passes (he has 112), although we stand to believe that Jake Palomaki will probably make a run at that before his time is done (he's at 85 career walks entering this weekend).

Mike King will tie the single season record for starts on Saturday with his appearance.

Prediction Time

The NCAA Tournament is great for a whole host of reasons, but what makes the first round's first game so fantastic is the matchup on the mound. You get two true aces in a heavyweight, titan faceoff. You get their very best effort, and it's always something to behold.

For Boston College to win this game, they'll need an ace performance from Justin Dunn. The same goes for Tulane with Emerson Gibbs. Whoever can crack the code first will likely win this game.

It's a straightforward prediction, but this is a straightforward kind of game.