BASEBALL PREVIEW:Tigers believe the hype

With softball season already in full swing, the Tiger baseball squad prepares to swing into action this weekend when they travel to Central Florida. <br><br> Tiger Rag's Baseball/Softball Preview will hit the streets tomorrow and should be arriving in your mailbox soon. <br><br> Check out our three-day preview of LSU baseball beginning with this, our look into the program as a whole. <br><br> Tomorrow, we focus on LSU's pitching staff followed by the projected lineups on Friday.

Head coach Smoke Laval and his team definitely have the right attitude this season.


Laval and his squad have adopted the term, "Believe the Hype." They had better, since the hype surrounding this LSU baseball team is a return trip to Omaha, where the Tigers left business unfinished a year ago. The feeling is the No. 2-ranked Tigers are a favorite in the College World Series, a setting that was rather unkind to the Rosenblatt Stadium favorites.


"We had shirts made that say 'Believe the Hype,' but our hype is how you prepare everyday," Laval said.


Laval spoke of preparation, patience and the importance of playing one game at a time. It is not the first time this year an LSU coach has preached the importance of "the next game."


Sound familiar?


"All in all, what we are trying to do is start thinking," Laval said sounding a great deal like football coach Nick Saban. "The old cliché, 'one game at a time,' will apply to us. All the accolades that we have received are probably well deserved, being ranked in preseason so high."


Preseason rankings become national title expectations – especially in Baton Rouge.


"That is the bar that these kids have raised," Laval said. "Now they are expected to perform. Last year they lost three straight to Kansas, they had several injuries, and they weren't supposed to go to Omaha. Somehow they did it."


A trip many on this team remember as not being much fun. Laval said the experience itself was a good one, a lesson of what not to do next time. Aside from the pageantry, there is still baseball to play.


"There is no question the experience there," Laval said. "Remember, it is not the other teams. It is the distractions. You have to go through all the stuff, the parents, grandparents, girlfriends, then it becomes a vacation. Then the focus isn't on trying to win a baseball game. You can't really coach that. As much as you told them, as much as your prepare for it all season. Along with all of that, you are playing the best of the best. With all the talent being equal, it comes down to who can concentrate for nine innings, then forget about it and regroup."


The Tigers sat stunned after a two-and-done trip to the CWS, a place where LSU and winning has become synonymous. However, Laval said it was a feeling that took a while to soak in.


"I think when we lost and it was over, it didn't sink in," Laval said. "It was like guys, it's over, we're done. After a few days, it was like dog gone it, we're finished. Now we are like, wow, we have a lot of people back, we know what it takes, so that means we know what it takes to get a little better so we can do better, that sunk in after it was over. When you win it, a few days later you feel really good about it. But when you lose, a couple of days later you feel really bad about it."


Laval said last year's team was one of beauty, due to the obstacles in the way. First and foremost, the team was still coping with the loss of Wally Pontiff. Throw in several key injuries and getting swept at home by lowly Kansas, things did not bode well in Laval's second season.


Then all of a sudden, something clicked. Before you knew it, LSU won the SEC a couple of regionals and was back on the game's grandest stage.


"To get where we did and win the Southeastern Conference, that is your goal anyway," Laval said. "But watching a team mature, solve their own problems and figure it all out on their own, that tells it all.


What will tell-all is if LSU can follow up last season's success. On the heels of the school's first football national championship in a half-century, Tiger fans are hungry for more, and according to Laval, so is his team.


"This big wave that (LSU football coach) Nick Saban has brought in, our plan is to see if we can somehow ride that wave," Laval said.


Known for making analogies his team can relate too, Saban has introduced not only his team, but also the entire LSU community to the terms "brook trout" and "wolf mentality." Now it's Laval's turn.


"We tell our kids a story about how to win about surfers," Laval began. "Those guys are great, right; they have the long bleached hair. Those guys are always in the water, which is what we want our guys to do, is to spend more time on the field. When those surfers catch the wave, and ride it all the way in, they are teed off at themselves for not doing enough tricks. They get back out there to catch the wave and they fall off, then they are mad for falling off.


"In other words, surfers are never satisfied. The surfers start paddling a little bit ahead of the wave, that way when they do catch it, it works out. That is what our guys are trying to do."


However, the third-year coach has prepared his team for a treacherous ride. While the non-conference slate is not as demanding as in years past, the SEC schedule could get bumpy along the way.

"We told our guys to beware, because people like to build you up so when it doesn't go right, they can tear you down," Laval said. "We play 27 or 30 teams ranked in the top 20, but we accept that challenge. The part that bothers me is we think on the other side of the SEC the best team is South Carolina, and we play them on the road. Tennessee probably has their best team they have had since going to Omaha, and we play Tennessee on the road. On our side (the SEC Western Division) Auburn is just like us, they have a lot of people back, and we play Auburn on the road. The number two team on our side is Ole Miss, and we play Ole Miss on the road."

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