Hill, Laval bring home top SEC honors

The Southeastern Conference champion LSU baseball team has been recognized for its fine season, as Fighting Tiger coach Smoke Laval was named the league's Coach of the Year, while junior shortstop Aaron Hill has been named the conference's Position Player of the Year.

Hill is one of three Tigers to earn first team All-SEC honors, joining sophomore first baseman Clay Harris and sophomore designated hitter Ryan Patterson.

Three LSU players, sophomore second baseman Blake Gill, sophomore right fielder Jon Zeringue and junior right-handed pitcher Nate Bumstead, garnered second team recognition.

The SEC office in Birmingham announced the awards on Monday night following the tabulation of ballots submitted by the league's 12 baseball coaches. Coaches were not allowed to vote for players on their own team, and no player earned unanimous selection to the first team.

Laval, in his second season as the Tigers' coach following the 18-year tenure of Hall of Fame mentor Skip Bertman, led the Tigers to a 37-18-1 regular season record and a 20-9-1 record in the SEC, leading an LSU team that was beset by several major injuries to key contributors to its first conference championship since 1997. The Tigers' 20 conference wins mark the seventh time since 1986 that LSU has won 20 or more league games, and is the most in a single season since the 1998 team went 21-9.

Laval's award marks the 13th time that an LSU coach has been named the league coach of the year. Bertman was named the coach of the year seven times (186, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 1997), while the other awards were given to Harry Rabenhorst (1939, 1946), Red Swanson (1943), Ray Didier (1961) and Jim Smith (1975).

Laval, who served as Bertman's top assistant at LSU from 1984 through 1993 and as the head coach at Louisiana-Monroe from 1994 through 2000, is 81-40-1 in his two years at LSU and 322-199-1 overall as a head coach.

Hill, a Visalia, Calif., native, becomes the fourth LSU player to earn SEC Player of the Year honors since 1993, joining Russ Johnson (1993), Todd Walker (1994) and Eddy Furniss (1996), all of whom also earned All-America honors in those seasons.

Hill finished the regular season as the LSU leader in batting average (.367), RBI (51), runs scored (55), doubles (24), walks (38) and on-base percentage (.473), also leading the SEC in on-base percentage. Hill batted .398 in SEC games with 16 doubles and 30 RBI while batting .389 in conference games with runners in scoring position.

Hill was a member of the 2002 United States national team that won the silver medal at the 2002 World University Games in Italy. Hill began the season as the Tigers' starter at third base before shifting to shortstop in late February when starter Matt Horwath went down with a season ending injury.

Slidell native Harris became the Tigers' starter at first base during their March series at Long Beach St. and never relinquished the position, batting .346 in the regular season with 11 home runs, 46 RBI and a team high .636 slugging percentage. Harris twice hit two home runs in a game this year, at Alabama on March 30 and vs. Ole Miss on April 13.

Patterson, a product of Rowlett, Texas, transferred to LSU after one year at Texarkana Junior Colllege and immediately became one of the most pleasant surprises in the SEC this season, leading the Tigers with 13 home runs while batting .362 with a 17 doubles and a .633 slugging percentage. Patterson has hit safely in 45 of 52 games this season and has not gone consecutive games this season without a hit, and enters the post-season on an eight-game hitting streak.

This year marks the second time in the last three seasons the Tigers have had three selections to the first team, as Mike Fontenot, Lane Mestepey and the late Wally Pontiff were named first team All-SEC in 2001. South Carolina tied LSU with three first-team selections, Auburn had two selections, while Alabama, Arkansas and Tennes

Bumstead, a Las Vegas native and a transfer from the College of Southern Idaho, moved into the LSU pitching rotation for the Tigers' series at Georgia in late March and became the anchor of the weekend staff, going 8-1 with a 3.61 ERA in SEC games, including an eight-inning effort last Friday at Arkansas to clinch the conference championship for the Tigers. Bumstead has pitched at least seven innings in all eight of his conference victories and finished the regular season with a 9-2 record and a 4.07 ERA.

Thibodaux product Zeringue, a third round pick of the Chicago White Sox in the 2001 Major League draft, staged a remarkable comeback from a rough first month of the season to finish the regular season with a .346 batting average, 11 home runs and 36 RBI. Zeringue was the Tigers' leading hitter in the second half of the regular season with a .411 batting average, compared to the .204 mark he posted in the first four weeks of the season before he was taken out of the lineup for three weeks.

Zeringue's biggest game came on May 9 in the opener of the Auburn series, when he hit two home runs to help LSU to a 6-5 win over the league's second place team.

Gill, who hails from Bradenton, Fla., began the season at first base, but moved to second base in the second week of the season and enjoyed a solid campaign, finishing with a .304 batting average and 43 RBI. Gill, who batted .322 in the second half of the regular season, collected 20 of his RBI on the season with two out.

South Carolina pitcher David Marchbanks, who went 12-2 with a 2.40 ERA for the East division champion Gamecocks, was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year. Ole Miss first baseman/relief pitcher Stephen Head was named the league's Freshman of the Year after notching a school record 13 saves.

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