Dynamic duo

Heading into the 2009 campaign, the LSU baseball team is looking to pick up where they left off in Omaha last season. With new faces on the corners and mound, head coach Paul Mainieri will be banking on the production at the middle of the infield from returning starters DJ LeMahieu and Ryan Schimpf.

With the season opener in sight, most would expect the Tiger baseball team to be growing anxious.


Yet, taking ground balls for one of the final times in the old Alex Box Stadium a couple of weeks ago, LeMahieu and Schimpf gave the impression that they carried not a worry in the world.


"We are just out here having a blast," Schimpf said. "Everyone knows the season we came off of, as well as the [No. 1] ranking that we have, but we are not really feeling any pressure. It is weird to think that the season is already here but after Christmas, time really flies by. I am just ready to take it all in again."


On that day, however, the two Tiger infielders were all ears, neither for Mainieri nor any other member of the LSU staff, but for the words of a pair of older Bayou Bengals.


"We get to field balls with guys like Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot when we come out here," Schimpf said with a laugh. "What gets better than learning from guys who have been here and know what it takes? It is just unbelievable."


Of course, it is not all fun and games for Schimpf and LeMahieu.


While Theriot and Fontenot may have already made it to the grandest stage, they made their lasting mark on the program in 2000 as they helped lead LSU to the NCAA Championship.


Nine years later, Schimpf and LeMahieu hope to be the next pair of Tiger middle infielders to take LSU to the game’s greatest height.


Coming off of dynamic summer campaigns, the two Tigers are eager to get back to playing LSU baseball.


"I had a really good summer, so that was big for me," LeMahieu said. "The main thing was that I got some good work done and got a lot of my skills worked out. Looking around it seems like everyone came back stronger, so we are looking good."


The six-foot-four, 193-pound shortstop batted .290 (31-for-107) with five doubles, one home run, 13 RBI and 16 runs in 28 games with the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League.


That performance earned the Michigan-native regular-season MVP honors as well as the No. 6 prospect ranking by Baseball America magazine.


Not to be outdone, Schimpf batted .392 during the summer season with three doubles, 11 homers and 27 RBI in 27 games.


The five-foot-nine, 181-pound second baseman's performance earned him the No. 1 prospect ranking in the Valley League by Baseball America. The Slidell-native was also named the MVP of the Valley League Championship Series, earning a championship title in the process.


"Summer ball was good for me, and we got to win a World Series. I guess it would have been nice to win a College World Series, but at least I got something,” Schimpf said jokingly. “It is good to take that break though and play with the wooden bat and just try to better yourself. I just got out there, had fun, worked on getting better and didn't really worry about anything, and that helped a lot."


Heading into the new season, Schimpf points to last year's College World Series run as the focal point behind understanding the confidence that the 2009 team will take to the field.


"We are shooting to pick up where we left off," he said. "High expectations are a good thing, so we are ready to get going. We are returning a lot of guys who got a whole lot better over the summer, so we are looking around and seeing a lot of names that can step up and contribute."


LeMahieu echoed his second baseman's sentiments, pointing to the summer once more as a time where the team was able to grow into their own talents.


"I think a lot of our pitchers have improved with throwing over the summer and getting more experience," he said. "I think that with last year and summer ball they now know what it takes, and I expect them to go out and prove it.


"I think we all realized over the summer that we have something special waiting for us when we get back, and the thought of North Carolina never left anyone's mind. So we want to get back there (Omaha) and take home the title."


With just one day until the season kicks into gear and the nation's No. 1 ranking on their back, the duo feels good about LSU's chances in 2009.


"The goal is definitely a World Series title, and I feel like it is in reach," LeMahieu said. "We have the talent, but it is a different year and we have to prove that this team has it. It is tough to say how we stack up against last year's team, but with our experience we should be in a better place.


"We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, so we are just focusing on our team’s goals and will let it roll out from there," added LeMahieu. "Coach has prepared us really well, and we all know we have something special here, so nobody is really banking on the ranking or any of that as something that will carry us anywhere. We are going to get out there and earn it."


Schimpf points to last season, when the Tigers were fighting for their final breaths at midseason before reeling off a 23-game win streak, as a pivotal moment in the instillation of confidence amongst the players.


"We had a low point in the season, and that happens from time to time," he said. "But we realized we had to put the pressure aside and play baseball. We quit putting pressure on ourselves and just played how we knew we were capable of playing.


"That is what we are heading into this season thinking about. When we take the pressure off, we play great baseball like we are capable of. I think that is the main thing to take away from the experience, and that will carry us a long way this year."

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