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|Mainieri won't rest on laurels|
An open date in football gives me the perfect opportunity to talk LSU baseball. I know Trent Johnson will do a good job of bringing LSU basketball back, but you still have to be excited from what the Tiger baseball team did last season.
As a matter of fact, the always accommodating and enthusiastic Paul Mainieri compared his program to what Les Miles is doing with the football team.
"I see something familiar with the football team," Mainieri said by telephone Tuesday. "We had a great year and want to follow that up with another great year. When you do that, then you can be classified as having a great program instead of a great team."
Last year's great team went 49-19-1 and reached Omaha for the first time since 2004.
LSU also won a game in Omaha for the first time since 2000. It returns much of that team, including leading hitter Blake Dean and top pitcher Louis Coleman.
Mainieri, the 2008 Rivals.com National Coach of the Year, welcomes back 25 players that contributed to the club's success last season, when the Tigers advanced to the College World Series and finished No. 6 in the final national polls.
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.
"It was a wonderful experience," Mainieri said. "It's something we as coaches and players will always cherish. The thing that was most satisfying was the way the people and fans reacted to what we did. The never-say-die attitude inspired a lot of people, along with the 23-game winning streak. It was a special time and something we will never forget. But the reality is that the clock keeps moving forward, this is a new year and it does not begin where last season ended."
Seven starters are back from LSU's 2008 batting order, including sophomore catcher Micah Gibbs, junior second baseman Ryan Schimpf, sophomore shortstop DJ LeMahieu, junior DH/outfielder Dean, senior infielder/outfielder Derek Helenihi, junior outfielder Jared Mitchell and sophomore outfielder Leon Landry.
LSU returns 11 pitchers that recorded innings last season, including top reliever 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 true freshmen, including four players selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft.
"We have to get back in the mindset of qualifying for Hoover (SEC Baseball Tournament), trying to win our division, hopefully hosting an NCAA Regional and Super Regional," Mainieri said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us. If you sit thinking about the past then you are not ready for new challenges, I've seen teams in the conference finish first one year and last the next year."
Mainieri said last year's success is good and bad for this season.
"Last year when the guys came in for fall practice they did not know how good they were," he said. "We're trying to build on the confidence from last year. That team did not take anything for granted and they were hungry. The negative is if they feel because of what they did last year we are guaranteed to do that this year. We're not going to win because we have LSU across our chest. If you lose one or two great pitchers, it changes the dynamics. A key injury really hurt you. We had some great come-from-behind victories last year, but that shows you the difference between being really good or mediocre is not much at all."
Mainieri said his coaching staff will continue to focus on good fundamental and sound baseball.
"It's important the players remember what got them there last year was the basics," he said. "We've got to make plays, get the big hit and make the good pitch, as well as handle the pressure. Look at the Chicago Cubs. They were one of the best teams in baseball, but they didn't handle the pressure well. That's why we keep belaboring the point to play good fundamental baseball at all times."
LSU opens the '09 season on Feb. 20 versus Villanova in the new Alex Box Stadium.
"It is so awesome," Mainieri said. "And I am so glad we sent the old stadium out in such an appropriate way. No one will forget how we went out in the old Box. But this is a new ear and we can see the progress while we are practicing in the old stadium. There's no doubt it will be ready by February and it's going to be an exciting place to watch baseball."
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