Lawrence’s Grant Cleavinger playing a role in historic postseason for Tulane
photo by: Submitted photo
The Cinderella story that landed the 19-win Tulane baseball team in Friday’s NCAA regional playoff with top-seeded LSU includes 41 pitches thrown by Lawrence High alumnus Grant Cleavinger during last week’s American Athletic Conference tournament title game.
The former Chesty Lion, who was informed of his start the morning before the first pitch of the win-or-go-home contest, finished his sole inning against conference leader East Carolina with four runs allowed on a single hit, picking up a strikeout before leaving the inning with Tulane trailing 4-3 with a ticket to the national tournament at stake.
“It kind of came as a shock,” Cleavinger said. “I got the text from our pitching coach, (Anthony Izzio), that I was going to get the start for that day and give what I could towards that game and just try to give us a chance to win.”
It’s safe to say Cleavinger weathered the worst of the storm — the Pirates notched just two more runs on six hits through the next eight frames, as Tulane rolled past East Carolina to earn its first-ever AAC conference tournament title and first national tournament berth since 2016.
Postseason pressure isn’t exactly a new theme for Cleavinger, though.
A year ago, Cleavinger and No. 5-seed LHS were clinging to a two-run lead against 12-seed Olathe Northwest with the bases loaded in the top of the fifth in the Class 6A regional playoff. After conceding three RBIs, the bayou-bound senior took a bow and his high school career ended.
It’s a new world moving on from longtime LHS skipper Brad Stoll to first-year Tulane coach Jay Uhlman.
“It’s been a very big learning curve coming from Lawrence High,” Cleavinger said about his first year away from home. “I’m very thankful to have the staff that we have (at Tulane); they’re amazing and have helped me along that way of learning what to do, how to go about it the right way and get the best out of myself.”
photo by: Submitted photo
In his first season at Tulane, Cleavinger (10.18 ERA) is maintaining a 1-1 record with 32 total strikeouts through 20 1/3 innings pitched this season, including last week’s championship game.
Cleavinger and the Green Wave are now the lowest-seeded team ever to win their conference tournament. Together, they’re looking for Tulane’s inclusion in the College World Series for the first time since 2005.
Considering Tulane a CWS hopeful last month was laughable. Now, they’re the talk of Bourbon Street.
“Knowing what this means for the coaches, what this means for the players, the alumni, everyone involved in the program and the city — everyone knows how big of a deal this is,” Cleavinger said.
But the excitement doesn’t stop there for the hometown kid.
The regional playoff may potentially pit Cleavinger against another LHS alumnus — Sam Houston State assistant coach Shane Wedd. But that hometown battle can’t take shape without the Green Wave first beating in-state rival LSU, which finished second in the SEC West and defeated Tulane 11-5 at home in April.
Cleavinger got a taste of the top-seeded Tigers during that loss, recording a strikeout and giving up two hits through one complete inning on the mound.
“We’re playing arguably the best team in the country,” Cleavinger said of LSU. “It’s a big opportunity and no one’s going to expect us to come in and win. It’s exciting to kind of have that on our shoulder.”
First pitch for Tulane and LSU is slated for 2 p.m. on ESPNU.