Mainieri welcomes Tigers back

LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri met with the 2009 Tigers for the first time on Monday as the players returned to campus for the first day of fall semester classes.

The Tigers attended morning and early-afternoon classes before meeting with the coaching staff in the original Alex Box Stadium.

“It’s great to have the players back on campus and to meet with them for the first time as a group,” said Mainieri, the 2008 National Coach of the Year. “This is always the most exciting day of the year for me because it begins the process of building our team for the coming season.”

LSU will engage in fall practice from September 13 through October 24. The 2009 season begins on February 20, when the Tigers play host to Villanova in the New Alex Box Stadium.

The Tigers finished the 2008 season ranked No. 6 in the national polls after posting a 49-19-1 record and advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. LSU captured four titles in ‘08, winning the SEC Western Division, the SEC Tournament, the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional and the NCAA Baton Rouge Super Regional.

The Tigers also recorded an SEC-record 23-game win streak from April 22-June 1. After the streak ended with a Game 1 Super Regional loss to UC Irvine, the Tigers rebounded to defeat the Anteaters in Games 2 and 3 to earn a berth in the CWS.

“What will be critical for this year’s team,” Mainieri said, “is how it adjusts to the heightened expectations we’ll face due to our success in 2008. We’re not going to sneak up on anybody, and I have a lot of confidence that our players will be ready for the challenges we take on during the year.”

LSU returns 25 players that made significant contributions to the ’08 squad, including seven starters in the batting order.  Sophomore catcher Micah Gibbs, junior second baseman Ryan Schimpf, sophomore shortstop DJ LeMahieu, junior DH/outfielder Blake Dean, senior infielder/outfielder Derek Helenihi, junior outfielder Jared Mitchell and sophomore outfielder Leon Landry all played instrumental roles in the leading the Tigers to Omaha in 2008.

LSU returns 11 pitchers that recorded innings last season, including top reliever Louis Coleman, who elected to stay in school for his senior season after he was the 14th-round draft selection in June of the Washington Nationals.

The veterans are complemented by a talented class of 10 newcomers, including four players selected in the 2008 Major League draft.

Mainieri said the Tigers enjoyed productive summers, including Gibbs, the starting catcher for the United States National Team that won a gold medal at World Championships in the Czech Republic. Gibbs hit .264 (19-for-72) for the U.S. with three doubles, two homers and 17 RBI in 23 games.

LSU players also performed very well in the collegiate wooden-bat leagues. LeMahieu was the regular-season MVP of the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League as he hit .290 (31-for-107) with five doubles, one homer, 13 RBI and 16 runs in 28 games.

Schimpf was the MVP of the Valley League Championship Series in Virginia, leading the Luray Wranglers to the league title. Schimpf hit .392 (38-for-97) over the summer with three doubles, 11 homers and 27 RBI in 27 games.

Landry earned MVP honors in the Cal Ripken Sr. League Championship Series, as he led the Youse’s Maryland Orioles to the league crown. Landry batted .304 (21-for-69) during the summer season with four doubles, two triples, 16 RBI and 17 runs in 20 games.

Mainieri said the LSU pitchers also turned in strong outings this summer, citing right-handers Paul Bertuccini, Anthony Ranaudo, Austin Ross and Daniel Bradshaw as hurlers that converted save opportunities and recorded quality starts for their respective teams.

“I’m very proud of the way our players represented LSU this summer,” Mainieri said. “Their performances came against some of the best players in the country, and it only increases our optimism for this season. We can’t wait to get back on the field and start working with these guys again.”

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