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LSU opens spring practice as a favorite

Posted at 6:49 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 23:49:56-05

BATON ROUGE, La. (Press Release)  – The top-ranked LSU baseball team held its annual Media Day activities and opened preseason practice on a sunny Friday afternoon in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

LSU, ranked No. 1 in three different college baseball preseason polls, opens the season at 7 p.m. CT on Friday, February 15, when the Tigers play host to UL-Monroe in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who led the Tigers to the 2009 College World Series title, enters his 13th season in Baton Rouge eager for the challenges the 2019 season will present. Mainieri has directed LSU to five CWS appearances and eight NCAA Tournament National Seeds over the past 12 seasons, and the Tigers have won four SEC regular-season championships and six conference tournament titles in that span.

“I’m proud of our 2009 national championship, but quite frankly, I’m ready for another one,” Mainieri said. “We’ve a few teams I thought were capable of winning, but something happened along the way, or we caught a bad break here or there and weren’t able to finish the job. We’ve a good deal of success through the years, and I’m proud of where the program is and that we have had a consistent program. This year I think we have a chance to do something special.”

The 2019 Tigers return six position players who have filled everyday starting roles, including outfielders Antoine Duplantis, Zach Watson and Daniel Cabrera, and infielders Josh Smith, Brandt Broussard and Hal Hughes.

The pitching staff features junior right-hander Zack Hess, the Tigers’ No. 1 weekend starter in 2018, and sophomore right-hander Eric Walker, a 2017 Freshman All-American who was sidelined last season due to Tommy John surgery.

The staff is bolstered by the return of sophomore 2018 Freshman All-American right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard, and the bullpen features a corps of outstanding right-handed relievers, including senior Caleb Gilbert, juniors Todd Peterson and Matthew Beck, and sophomore Devin Fontenot.

“There are hopefully going to be plenty of ups during the season, and there are going to be some downs,” said Mainieri, who is in his 37th season as a collegiate head coach and ranks No. 3 on the NCAA Division I wins list for active coaches with 1,415 victories. “Our players are going to have to handle it and that is part of every season. How we handle the bumps along the way will determine what kind of team we have.”

The Tigers’ talented 16-man recruiting class – rated No. 1 in the nation in September – is composed of nine pitchers and seven position players, and it contains seven players that have been chosen in an MLB Draft – outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo, catcher Saul Garza, left-handed pitcher Easton McMurray, right-handed pitcher Landon Marceaux, right-handed pitcher Cole Henry, right-handed pitcher Jaden Hill and first baseman/outfielder CJ Willis.

Other new players to watch include infielders Drew Bianco, Gavin Dugas and Cade Beloso, catcher Brock Mathis and right-handed pitchers Riggs Threadgill and Chase Costello.

“I feel like we have three different recruiting classes going into this year,” Mainieri said. “We had our traditional recruiting class, which pretty much ranked with a consensus as the No. 1 recruiting class. Secondly, we get two players back, Josh Smith and Eric Walker that virtually missed the entire season last year due to injuries.

“Of course, we have the biggest news of three returning players that could have signed professionally after last season that decided to put their pro careers off a year and make one more run at it with the LSU Tigers. I’m speaking of Zack Hess, Zach Watson, and Antoine Duplantis, and what a difference it makes having them on the field.”