LSU will open its baseball season today
LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri enters his eighth season in Baton Rouge with a highly optimistic outlook as he seeks to lead the Tigers to their second straight College World Series appearance in Omaha, Neb.
The Tigers open the 2014 season at 7 p.m. today in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field as they host the University of New Orleans. The game is part of the weekend’s Major League Baseball Urban Invitational, an event designed to promote the baseball among inner-city youth.
“We’re very encouraged by the intensity and energy that our team has displayed,” Mainieri said in a news release. “The fall practice period revealed a lot about our players, and it gives us strong momentum heading into the season. We’ve learned a lot about the players that can play significant roles for us this spring, and I’m very pleased with the work ethic and chemistry developing within the squad. I think our fans will enjoy watching a very talented and dynamic group of Tigers in 2014.”
LSU, the 2013 SEC Western Division and SEC Tournament champion, was the NCAA Tournament No. 4 National Seed last season. LSU played host to and won both the NCAA Regional and Super Regional and earned the 16th CWS berth in school history. The Tigers’ 57 victories last season matched the SEC record, and LSU posted the nation’s best winning percentage (57-11, .838).
LSU is No. 2 in the 2014 USA Today preseason poll. The preseason ranking is LSU’s highest since 2010 when the Tigers also began the year at No. 2.
“It’s a significant honor any time our program is recognized with such a high ranking, but we realize we have a lot of work to do,” said Mainieri, who has directed the Tigers to one national championship, three College World Series appearances, two SEC overall titles, four SEC division titles and four SEC tournament championships in seven seasons. “Last season was one of the greatest in LSU baseball history, but this is a new year with a new team. We can’t just pick up where we left off last year in Omaha. We play a very challenging 56-game regular-season schedule, and each game is critical in determining the direction of our season.”
New Orleans was 7-44 last season; however, the Privateers have received a boost with the return of Ron Maestri as head coach. Maestri led the UNO baseball program from 1972-85 and enjoyed a successful career as athletic director at the school. Mainieri played two seasons at UNO under Maestri’s leadership in 1978 and ‘79.
LSU will play UNO Saturday at Zephyr Field in Metairie in a 2 p.m. contest, while LSU will play Grambling State in a 4 p.m. contest Sunday at Alex Box Stadium.
Grambling is led by fifth-year coach James Cooper, was 18-30 last season and finished with a 9-15 mark in SWAC play.
The 2014 LSU roster features 18 lettermen, including nine position players with starting experience and eight pitchers that recorded innings last season. The LSU veterans are complemented by a talented class of 19 newcomers that was ranked No. 6 in the Perfect Game recruiting ranking.
“I feel as if I’ve been handed a big pile of clay, and as the sculptor of that clay, it’s up to me to try to make something beautiful out of it,” Mainieri said. “We’ve recruited an outstanding class of players, and we’re excited to work with them and form a team that can hopefully return to the College World Series, and this time come home with the big trophy.”
LSU features two 2014 preseason all-Americans — junior right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola, a 2013 first-team All-American and the SEC Pitcher of the Year; and sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman, a 2013 first-team All-American, the National and SEC Freshman of the Year and the Brooks Wallace Award winner as the nation’s best shortstop.
Other returning position players include senior All-SEC third baseman Christian Ibarra, senior outfielder Sean McMullen, junior outfielder Chris Sciambra, junior catcher Tyler Moore, junior outfielder Jared Foster, sophomore outfielder Mark Laird, sophomore outfielder Andrew Stevenson and sophomore catcher Chris Chinea.
Nola is joined on the pitching staff by six other returning hurlers, including senior right-handers Kurt McCune and Nate Fury, junior left-hander Cody Glenn, junior right-hander Joe Broussard, sophomore right-hander Hunter Newman, and sophomore left-hander Hunter Devall.
“We’re heading into the season with a lot of new players and some outstanding returning veterans that will form the core of our team,” Mainieri said. “We think we’ve assembled an excellent group of players that are willing to work extremely hard. We created a highly competitive atmosphere during fall practice, and the players responded very well. As a staff, we need to continue to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle will fit together to give us another ball club that will challenge for a berth in Omaha.”