New faces, new style

Another unexpected result of Katrina came to realization this week as the LSU baseball team began fall practice a little later than usual.

Because Alex Box was utilized as a center for hurricane relief, the team was forced to postpone the start of their preparation for the 2006 season.

One benefit will be the time difference between the end of fall practice and the beginning of the season will be diminished. The transition more seamless from practice to play.

For a younger, new look LSU team, this could be heaven sent.

This year's team features several noticeable voids in the lineup coupled with some familiar faces.

The pitching staff will be without many of the regulars in the Tiger rotations

LSU lost pitchers Jason Determann to medical school, Greg Smith to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Brandon Nall to the New York Mets. Lane Mestepey and Jordan Faircloth both completed their eligibility.

Also lost to the draft were Ryan Patterson to the Blue Jays, Nick Stavinoha to the Cardinals, and Clay Harris to the Phillies. Blake Gill completed his eligibility.

With these departures, many are led to the belief that this season will be a rebuilding one, but not according to head coach Smoke Laval.

"We are not a new team," said Laval. "A lot of these guys have two or more years of experience."

Scanning the roster will indicate that there are many still around with playing experience.

For instance, most of the infield is still in place from last year.

Four of five starters return including, Matt Liuzza at catcher, Will Harris at first base, Chris Jackson at third base, and Michael Hollander at shortstop.

Quinn Stewart and Bruce Sprowl will again be in the outfield.

Losing two thirds of their weekend rotation and their bullpen help do not leave LSU as hopeless as thought. The Tigers return six pitchers who have experience, including Saturday starter Clay Dirks and Justin Meir.

This eclectic group of veterans and rookies made the start of fall camp very interesting.

Monday marked the beginning of the two week intersquad period. And they began with a bang.

Justin Meir began on a positive note going four innings and giving up two runs on four strikeouts and zero walks. Matt Liuzza put to rest his 2005 disappointment, hitting a single, a double, and a three run homerun. Quinn Stewart had two hits. Three rookies also made an early impression. Freshman catcher Robert Lara had two singles and one double. Fellow freshman catcher J.T. Wise had two RBI's on two hits. Freshman Jarred Bogany had two hits and wowed onlookers with his speed.

Tuesday's competition saw four pitchers toe the rubber. Chase Dardar went five innings, giving up on four hits and two runs. He also recorded six strikeouts. Chris Cahill also went five innings, giving up two hits and one run. Freshman Ryan Byrd and sophomore Matt Greenwich also saw action.

Lara continued to impress with three hits and three RBI's. Bogany also showed up again with a homerun and two RBI's. Freshman outfielder Chris McGhee knocked three hits.

Michael Hollander knocked in two runs.

The offense exploded on Wednesday with 20 hits. Will Harris and catcher Gerald Victoriano both hit a homerun. Lara continued to pound the ball with two more hits. Also, J.P. Padron had three hits and one RBI. Defensively, Bogany made two impressive over-the-shoulder catches a la Willie Mays.

Thursday's scrimmage saw a strange player on the mound. It was first baseman Will Harris. His performance was anything but strange. He went five innings and gave up no runs. Harris also gave up just two hits and had three strikeouts with no walks.

Among those listed in the scrimmage summaries are some unfamiliar names. And although there are many returning players to fill the empty position spots, Laval has not ruled out the possibilities of utilizing his young talent.

"You hope that all that the veterans get better so you are not depending on freshman," said Laval. "But there are going to be three or four who are going to play every day."

Laval did not dismiss the idea of loading the lineup with some of the freshman.

"Jarred Bogany can play real well," said Laval. "J.T. Wise, Jason Ogata, Robert Lara, can play and Louis Coleman can pitch. Buzzy Haydel can play a little bit and those guys could all be playing at one time."

The mood and approach of the team during the scrimmages was markedly different than those famous guerilla ball teams of the past. Patterson, Stavinoha , Clay Harris, and Gill hit almost 70 percent of the team's homeruns last season. The new personnel dictates a change in the approach on offense.

"It is a different club," said Laval. "For the last three years, we were in the top ten in slugging percentage. This club is not going to hit as many (homeruns). So we have to focus on doing some little things better. We can't strike out as much and have to keep the ball on the ground so we can get a chance."

Laval also seemed to be very impressed with the new look pitching staff.

"Dirks has a chance to be the dominant guy," said Laval. "We also had a few guys that pitched last year who were injured or not one hundred percent. They are now on schedule. If things go right, we will be very competitive."

Laval also discussed his breakdown of each practice session and what he is looking to accomplish with these scrimmages.

"We run a regular practice. We do specialty groups (bunting, stealing, etc.). Then we go right into defensive fundamentals. Then we do three groups of hitting. After that, we go into our game."

"I want to see if they know the game, the kind of stuff you can not coach. We know they are very talented, but I am looking for what we call HWH or How to Win Awareness."

He also said it is way to early to begin writing a lineup in ink.

"These guys are ready to pitch, hit and field at their best. I like what I am seeing very much so."

The team will continue with open practices and scrimmages for the rest of this week. After that they will go back to the four on one practices. The Tigers are slated to begin their 2006 campaign on Feb. 10 against North Florida at Alex Box Stadium.

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