Leading by example

When Tiger baseball fans reflect upon the 2008 season that was, one name that immediately comes to mind is Blake Dean. Heading into 2009 and looking to make a return trip to Omaha, the Tigers will rely on the performance of the standout outfielder/designated hitter once more.

There are not many words that can describe the performance that Dean put together during his sophomore campaign. He built upon his solid freshman year by improving in every major statistical category last season, powering LSU's remarkable 23-game winning streak heading into the Super Regional, batting .424 with 11 homers and 34 RBI during the run.


On the year, the Crestview, Fla.-native was one of the nation's most explosive players at the plate, starting in 67 of the Tigers' 69 games (39 in left field, 28 at DH), batting .353 (95-for-269) with 18 doubles, three triples, 20 homers and 73 RBI.


Of course, the lasting marks Dean made came during the stretch run to Omaha, seeing the six-foot-one, 208-pounder launch a three-run double in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift LSU to a 6-5 win over Rice in the College World Series.


In the NCAA Super Regional series against UC Irvine, Dean hit .500 (7-for-14) with two doubles, one home run and four RBI.


The junior also tied an LSU school record with five hits in the Game 3 win over the Anteaters on a pair of singles, two doubles and a three-run home run. That dynamic outing came one game after Dean lined a game-tying single in the ninth inning during a five-run rally that erased a 7-4 deficit and gave LSU a 9-7 win to force that third and deciding game.


Thinking back on the season that was, Dean admits that he is still not able to put a finger on how the success came to fruition.


"Irvine was an hour away from Omaha," Dean said. "They were ready to send us home and all that, but we now know we can do anything. From the SEC tournament to Irvine to Rice, you just step back and ask how it all happened. It was unbelievable, especially with the fans coming in and screaming so loud that you can't even hear yourself think. It all felt like a dream.


"The whole reason I came to LSU is to bring back championships, so the last year with us doing what we did was picture perfect," added Dean. "We would like to have won a National Championship, but things were what they were and we went out in style."


The Tigers saw the magic run out against North Carolina, returning to Baton Rouge empty handed before having to make the turnaround to summer ball, a transition that Dean admits was not an easy one.


"Omaha to the summer went from the highest high to an immediate low," said Dean with a laugh. "There are no fans at the Cape, so it was weird just getting up for a game. I started slow but picked up at the end of the summer. Now I am just trying to keep that rolling as we head into the season.


"I have felt really good all year, so I am ready to get out there. I have been working out a lot and, now that I have my confidence, I can just focus on getting better at baseball."


As for his teammates, Dean said that the pieces are in place to attempt to pick up where the team left off last spring.


"We have a lot of returning players, so we know what we have to do and what we are capable of," he said. "Everyone goes out in the summer to get better, and you can tell a lot of the guys came back and looked better. Guys are a lot more comfortable, so that is a big thing with development.


"And, there is really no pressure on the younger guys because they don't know what to expect, so they just come out here and try to earn their spot," continued Dean. "It comes down to the fact that we are going to just go out there and do it every day and not take a day off and see where it takes us."


With questions surrounding the lack of experience on the pitching staff, Dean said that the up and coming arms have done what they needed to do to make a splash.


"I think last year the pitchers got a taste of what they needed to do," he said. "They went out over the summer and matured and saw what it takes to be successful, so I think they are ready. But, if they don't get the job done, we have some other guys nipping at their heels to get the chance to perform. So, that keeps everyone on top of their game."


Though the chance of a return trip to the World Series started off in fashion as LSU earned the nation's preseason No. 1 ranking, Dean is quick to point out that the Tigers will be approaching the 2009 season like any other.


"The ranking is only a number, and it will only last so long," he said. "It is unlikely we go undefeated, so that really does not matter to us. If it is a midweek game against a non-SEC team, we still have to get out there and play them just as tough.


"Omaha is what everyone plays college baseball for, but we have some smaller objectives we need to reach before thinking about that. Of course, we don't come out here to get to the SEC tournament; we do it to get to Omaha. Still, you just have to make sure everything else is falling in line for you before looking that far ahead."

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