BATON ROUGE (WVUE) -
While the Tigers know they have to prove the voters right and prove why they’ve been voted preseason number one in several polls, it’s not a ranking that’s handed out to just anyone. LSU’s deep lineup with both young and veteran talent, as well as plenty of experience on the mound, make them a favorite to be in Omaha this June.
“Coming off of a somewhat sub-par year and coming off of a fall where we didn’t get to scrimmage a lot because of the weather and because pitchers were shut down, I think when they get a number one ranking, I think it gives them a little more swag, a little more confidence that wow people think we’re pretty good,” says head coach Paul Mainieri.
But as it goes with any team in any sport, success is often dependent upon health. We saw how much the Tigers missed two of their stars, shortstop Josh Smith and starting pitcher Eric Walker, last season. Now that they’re both healthy and ready to go, they say they’re ready to pick up where they left off two years ago.
“We’re both in here everyday trying to get better and trying to do our rehab, and we’re going to be ready to go,” says Smith. “Eric’s one of those guys. He put in a lot of work to get back. He went through a pretty tough time getting injured at the worst part of the year for us. He’s a competitor. He’s worked his butt off. We’re excited to see him pitch this year.”
“All I know is I feel great,” says Walker. “Everything’s coming out of the hand smooth. It feels like it did before, at least. I’m just feeling good. Honestly, I don’t know where that bar’s going to be. I’ll let y’all decide that.”
But it will be very far from a two-man effort. Walker and Smith are part of a team that returns its entire outfield, middle infield and weekend rotation from a year ago, not to mention three studs that were expected to be gone via the MLB draft that instead returned to make another run at not just Omaha, but a national championship.
“I’m speaking of Zack Hess, (outfielder) Zach Watson, and (outfielder) Antoine Duplantis, and what difference it makes having them on the field,” says Mainieri. “Everyday they’re out there, you can just feel the leadership, the calmness and the experience and how it rubs off on the young players to let them know how it works. They’ve been through it all, and I just can’t place enough value on it.”
“There’s only one thing that you haven’t done in college baseball,” says Hess. “You know what it’s like to win the western division in the SEC. You know what it’s like to win the league outright. You know what it’s like to win the SEC Tournament. You know what it’s like to be a national seed and host a regional and super regional at Alex Box Stadium. You know what it’s like to play in the national championship game. The only thing that those core guys from that 2017 team haven’t done is win the whole thing. Obviously, that’s a lofty goal, but that’s the expectation every year when you play at LSU. If you can’t handle that, this probably isn’t the place for you.”
As coach Mainieri puts it, they truly have a great chance to do something special in 2019.