MOORMANN: Holt, Zeringue have set their legacy

Teammates Jon Zeringue and J.C. Holt have "two different-type stories," as LSU baseball coach Smoke Laval said, but their similarities are such that they've added their names to the storied tradition of a program that owes its existence to players such as them.

From fulfilling lifelong ambitions to becoming major league prospects, Zeringue and Holt have learned to adapt and adjust in making their dreams come true. One is a former strong-armed catcher, who found a home in right field, the other a former second baseman, who used his speed to become a
rangy center fielder.

"I can't believe it's gone this fast," said Holt, a junior as is Zeringue. "It's seems like I was just a freshman yesterday."

In reality, yesterday -- or at least this past weekend, the two helped LSU to an NCAA regional tournament title before a home crowd that may have seen them play in person for the last time. LSU will compete in its sixth consecutive Super Regional this weekend.

Considered coveted prospects in the major league draft held Monday and Tuesday, Zeringue and Holt must decide if they want to satisfy another dream and become professional players.

For Zeringue, it's a familiar choice. The Chicago White Sox drafted him in the third round as a catcher out of Thibodaux's E.D. White High School.

Zeringue turned down their offer in favor of joining the Tigers as a member of Laval's first recruiting class.

LSU moved Zeringue to right field, where it took him awhile to display the skills that made Chicago take notice. Once Zeringue fully arrived this season, everyone noticed, from USA Today/Sports Weekly, which named him a first-team All-America, to the coaches who selected Zeringue and Holt to the All-Southeastern Conference first team. Zeringue also was chosen as the Co-SEC Player of the Year.

"Zeringue was a top player" in high school, Laval said. "When he came here, he was predicted to do well. There was a lot of pressure. He had to fight through all that. He worked to improve. The maturity factor helped, too."

Zeringue's impatience got the best of him early. He hit .247 in a limited role as a freshman before striking out a team-high 56 times last year.

As Zeringue learned to become more selective at the plate, his strikeouts dropped dramatically and his average grew even more without any appreciable drop in power. A .339 hitter last year, Zeringue hovered around the .400 mark for most of this season, while ranking among the SEC leaders in nearly
every offensive category. Through the first two games of the regional, Zeringue had hit his 12th home run while boasting the team lead in batting average (.396) and slugging percentage (.647). Just as impressively, his strikeout total had fallen to 33.

"All the hard work paid off," said Zeringue, who admitted that he "butted heads" with Laval and assistant coach Turtle Thomas on more than one occasion. "Early on it was kind of rough," said the robust 6-foot-2, 205-pound Zeringue, "but it was definitely worth it considering the success I've had. I wanted to do whatever I could do to play and help the team."

Likewise for Holt, whose personality and background are different but whose path to stardom follows the one taken by Zeringue.

"J.C. came out of Sieper, La.," Laval said. "Where is that? Nobody knew him."

Sieper is located in central Louisiana about a half hour west of Alexandria.

Although Holt's father is an electrical engineering graduate of Tulane, Holt followed his father's example in pledging his support to the Tigers.

"Since I was five, I wanted to play for LSU," Holt said.

He made it, too. And like Zeringue, the 5-10, 170-pound Holt did what he had to to make it work.

"You almost don't have a choice," Laval said. "You do it our way, or you don't play."

Holt made an immediate splash, starting 43 games as a freshman at second base, shortstop or designated hitter. He batted .349 and earned Freshman All-America honors. A move to center field last year brought about a dip in his average to .299, as Holt found that his reputation preceded him and pitchers didn't throw to him as they had before.

Both Holt and Zeringue had to learn the nuances of the game, accept their limitations, and go from there. Holt wasn¹t outwardly as headstrong as Zeringue, but the transition was no less frustrating.

Finally, toward the end of last season, Holt begin to pick up the pace. He carried that through
the prestigious Cape Cod Summer League, where he was chosen most valuable player, and into this season as LSU finished second both in the SEC overall and Western Division standings.

"It was two different ways of doing it, but both of them had a chance to do what they came here for," Laval said of Holt and Zeringue. "They got closer to graduating, they played for one of the best program's in the country and they have an opportunity to play baseball on the next level."

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