BATON ROUGE – 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. Friday in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field as they play host to the University of New Orleans. The game is part of the weekend’s Major League Baseball Urban Invitational, an event designed to promote the sport of baseball among inner-city youth.
“We’re very encouraged by the intensity and energy that our team has displayed,” 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. “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,” Mainieri said. “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.
Grambling, 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.”
LSU has nine returning position players with starting experience, led by Alex Bregman, a first-team All-America and All-SEC selection who batted .369 (104-for-282) last season with 18 doubles, six homers, 52 RBI and 16 stolen bases. The Albuquerque, N.M. native finished the 2013 season No. 2 in the nation in base hits with 104. He was No. 1 in the SEC in triples (7); No. 3 in total bases (154); No. 5 in batting average (.369); No. 4 in runs scored (59); No. 3 in doubles (18); No. 4 in slugging percentage (.546) and No. 5 in RBI (52).
Bregman is joined on the left side of the LSU infield by senior third baseman Christian Ibarra, who earned 2013 first-team All-SEC recognition while hitting .305 (68-for-223) with 17 doubles, six homers and 39 RBI. Ibarra, a product of La Puente, Calif. noted as one of the nation’s top defensive players, finished No. 7 in the SEC in doubles (17); No. 9 in walks (36) and No. 15 in slugging percentage (.462).
The right side of the Tigers’ infield will feature new personnel in 2014 as LSU’s starters last season – All-SEC second baseman JaCoby Jones and All-American first baseman Mason Katz – have begun their professional baseball careers. Junior Conner Hale, a transfer from State College of Florida and the 2013 Suncoast Conference Player of the Year, is a strong candidate to start at second base. Hale hit .366 last season with 83 hits, 18 doubles, four triples, one homer and 65 RBI.
Other contenders for infield positions include freshman Danny Zardon, a Pembroke Pines, Fla. product who hit .506 as a high school senior, and freshman Kramer Robertson, who batted .425 last season at Midway High School in Waco, Texas.
Junior Tyler Moore and sophomore Chris Chinea should each see significant action at catcher, as three-year starter Ty Ross is now playing in the San Francisco Giants organization. Moore, a Baton Rouge native, played in 48 games (20 starts) last season, batting .281 (27-for-96) with nine doubles, one triple, 12 RBI and 12 runs. He lined the game-winning double in the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NCAA Super Regional versus Oklahoma.
Chinea, a Miami, Fla. product, played in 31 games (10 starts) last season, batting .277 (13-for-47) with four doubles and 11 RBI. Moore, Chinea and JUCO transfer catcher Kade Scivicque should also see playing time at first base when they’re not working behind the plate.
LSU has tremendous experience in the outfield with five players – senior Sean McMullen, juniors Chris Sciambra and Jared Foster, and sophomores Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird – each having played as starters during their careers.
Laird, a Monroe, La. native, will occupy left field after starting 59 games in right and center last season. Laird batted .307 (74-for-241) in 2013 with seven doubles, one triple and 18 RBI while using his blazing speed to make several outstanding defensive plays. Stevenson, also a superb athlete with tremendous speed and instincts, will start in center field. The product of Lafayette, La. is also expected to make significant offensive contributions as the Tigers’ lead-off hitter.
McMullen, Foster and Sciambra are all highly skilled players that will play prominent roles in the outfield. McMullen, a product of Metairie, La., played in 54 games – mostly as the designated hitter – in 2013 , batting .314 (55-for-175) with 18 doubles, one triple, two homers, 30 RBI and 26 runs. Foster earned SEC All-Tournament honors last season, and the Lake Charles, La. native batted .359 (23-for-64) on the year with two doubles, two homers and 12 RBI. Sciambra, a Baton Rouge product, hit .265 (26-for-98) last season and provided the game-winning single in the Tigers’ SEC Tournament championship game win over Vanderbilt.
The Tigers’ staff has eight pitchers that recorded innings last season. Aaron Nola, the junior right-handed ace from Baton Rouge, was a finalist for the 2013 National Pitcher of the Year award after recording one of the best seasons in LSU history. He posted a 12-1 mark and a 1.57 ERA in 126 innings with 18 walks and 122 strikeouts, finishing No. 1 in the SEC in strikeouts, No. 1 in innings pitched, No. 2 in opponent batting average (.188) and No. 3 in SEC in wins. He recorded a brilliant two-hit shutout versus Oklahoma in the NCAA Super Regional and became just the fourth pitcher in LSU history to fire three shutouts in one season.
Junior left-hander Cody Glenn started 15 games last season as part of the weekend rotation, and he is a contender for the Tigers’ No. 2 starting role. Glenn, a product of Houston, Texas, registered a 7-3 mark and a 2.68 ERA last season, allowing a .244 opponent batting average in 84 innings of work.
Veteran right-hander Kurt McCune, a senior from Norco, La., will also vie for significant innings after making 11 appearances in 2013. McCune missed the first two months of the season with a back injury, but posted 4-1 mark with a 2.66 ERA in 23.2 innings. He earned a vital relief win over Jackson State in the first round of the NCAA Regional.
Also contending for a starting role is sophomore right-hander Hunter Newman, a product of Bloomingdale, Ga. Newman, the starting pitcher in LSU’s SEC Tournament semifinal win over Arkansas, worked 24.2 innings last season, recording a 2-0 mark with a 2.55 ERA.
The LSU bullpen must compensate for the loss of 2013 closer Chris Cotton, who recorded 16 saves as a senior last season. The staff will be bolstered by the return of hard-throwing junior right-hander Joe Broussard, who missed the 2013 campaign due to an elbow injury. Broussard, a native of Gretna, La., fired 45 strikeouts in 41 innings as a sophomore in 2012.
Senior right-hander Nate Fury of Harahan, La. will work out of the Tigers’ bullpen after recording 16 strikeouts in 18.1 relief innings last season. Sophomore right-hander Mitch Sewald of Mandeville, La. made two appearances as a true freshman in 2013 and may take on a more prominent bullpen role this season. Sophomore left-hander Hunter Devall of Clinton, La. worked 16 innings last year and should also make significant contributions as a reliever.
LSU has several excellent newcomers within its pitching staff who are projected to make immediate impacts, including junior left-hander Kyle Bouman, a transfer from Jefferson County (Mo.) Community College; junior right-hander Brady Domangue, a transfer from LSU-Eunice, freshman left-hander Jared Poche’ of Lutcher (La.) High School and freshman right-hander Parker Bugg of Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego, Calif., who was selected in the 2013 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles.
LSU Baseball in the 2014 Major League Baseball Urban Invitational
Friday, Feb. 14 @ 7 p.m. CT - New Orleans Privateers at #2 LSU Fighting Tigers (Alex Box Stadium - Baton Rouge, La.)
Saturday, Feb. 15 @ 2 p.m. CT - #2 LSU Fighting Tigers vs. New Orleans Privateers (Zephyr Field – Metairie, La.)
Sunday, Feb. 16 @ 4 p.m. CT – Grambling State Tigers at #2 LSU Fighting Tigers (Alex Box Stadium – Baton Rouge, La.)
Other Games in the MLB Urban Invitational
Friday, Feb. 14 @ 6 p.m. CT – Grambling State Tigers at Southern Jaguars (Lee-Hines Field – Baton Rouge, La.)
Saturday, Feb. 15 @ 1 p.m. CT – Southern Jaguars vs. Grambling State Tigers (Wesley Barrow Stadium – New Orleans, La.)
Sunday, Feb. 16 @ 12 p.m. CT – Southern Jaguars vs. New Orleans Privateers (Alex Box Stadium - Baton Rouge, La.)
LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates - the Baton Rouge affiliate on Friday and Sunday is WDGL 98.1 FM; Baton Rouge affiliate on Saturday is WTGE 100.7 FM
LSUsports.net – live video, audio and stats for LSU games on Friday and Sunday; live audio and stats for LSU game on Saturday
Friday – Cox Sports Television for LSU-UNO game
Saturday – Cox Sports Television and ESPN3.com for LSU-UNO game
Sunday – MLB Network for both UNO-Southern game and LSU-Grambling game
2014 LSU Baseball schedule posters will be given away
2014 LSU Baseball schedule magnets will be given away
All children ages 12 and under can run the bases of Alex Box Stadium after the game
LSU leads the all-time series with New Orleans, 54-34, including an 11-2 win over the Privateers last season in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.
LSU leads the all-time series with Grambling, 3-0, including a 4-0 win over GSU last season in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.
PITCHING MATCHUPS (LSU games)
LSU – Jr. RHP Aaron Nola (12-1, 1.57 ERA, 126.0 IP, 18 BB, 122 SO in 2013)
UNO – Sr. RHP Raymond Winter (2-3, 2.81 ERA, 32.0 IP, 5 BB, 20 SO in 2013)
LSU – Jr. LHP Kyle Bouman (transfer from Jefferson County (Mo.) Community College
UNO – Jr. RHP Alex Smith (3-9, 4.50 ERA, 100.0 IP, 28 BB, 52 SO in 2013)
LSU – Fr. LHP Jared Poche’ (true freshman from Lutcher (La.) High School)
GSU – TBA