DEVILLE: Optimism, New Faces at Alex Box

Paul Mainieri knew he was coming into a rebuilding situation of sorts when he came to Baton Rouge.

But he had no idea what lay ahead in his first season at LSU.

Neither did the fans for that matter.

The Tigers slumped to a 29-26-1 overall record, including a 12-17-1 mark in SEC play. Once a perennial powerhouse among college baseball's elite programs; LSU again missed the postseason for the second straight year.

"Our record could have been a lot worse than it was," Mainieri said.

The patrons of Alex Box Stadium began wondering had LSU's era of dominance on the baseball diamond come to an end. It was obvious the talent level wasn't near where it had been when LSU was winning five national championships in 10 seasons. It was also obvious the rest of the college baseball world had caught up with the Tigers in terms of quality coaching and facilities.

Maybe LSU's day in the sun had passed? Not if Mainieri has anything to do with it.

Entering his second season as the coach of the Tigers, the former Notre Dame head man looks at his 2008 team much different from a year ago. Instilling a renewed sense of discipline and work ethic along with the nation's top-rated recruiting class, Mainieri made leaps and bounds during the offseason in terms of getting the Tigers back on track.

Mainieri said the sky is the limit with his 2008 ball club. With a number of new faces dotting LSU's lineup, fresh talent and a broadened outlook, he said there is no telling what this team can accomplish.

"I'm not going to put limitations on this team," Mainieri said. "It will not surprise me if this team wins the national championship."

But he is also realistic to add that the first goal is reaching the SEC Tournament then the NCAA Tournament.

And just how does he intend on doing that just a year after the worst season in Tiger Baseball in over two decades?

"We just couldn't do it (last year)," Mainieri said. "I don't think that will be the case with this team."

Armed with one of the top pitchers in the SEC in Jared Bradford, the Tigers will feature a deep pitching staff, armed with a load of talented newcomers. At the plate, juco stars Matt Clark and Rene Escobar as well as two-sport stars Jared Mitchell and Chad Jones will swing big sticks.

"I understand what it takes for us to be successful and now it's just going out there and doing it," Mainieri said.

Mainieri and his LSU Tigers will try and make the final season in old Alex Box Stadium a memorable one.

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Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.


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