By Trey Mongrue
Although the calendar just turned the page to October and the season is still more than four months away, the sights and sounds of baseball returned to Alex Box Stadium/Skip Bertman Field as LSU opened Fall Practice last week.
Exactly 128 days have passed since the Tiger unceremoniously bowed out to Houston in the regionals – the first time since the Super Regional format was adopted that LSU has not advanced out of a regional that it hosted.
Nobody knows that more than Alex Bregman.
In what will more than likely be his final season with the Tigers, the junior shortstop and unquestioned leader of the team is hell-bent on forgetting the missed opportunities of the past and working with the team this Fall with the hopes of making his second trip to the College World Series.
“I think I have a chip on my shoulder,” Bregman said. “The reason I came to school here was to win a national championship and we haven’t done that yet. That’s the only thing I’m think about when I’m walking to class or whatever I’m doing.”
The good news for Bregman is that this may be his best chance to achieve a title with seven everyday starters and many other contributors returning to the team for the upcoming season, in addition to the influx of new talent.
The only position in the field that doesn’t have a returning starter back is third base following the departure of sure-handed Christian Ibarra, who is now an undergraduate assistant coach and will be the first base coach. Battling for his vacated spot are senior Conner Hale, sophomore Danny Zardon and freshman and former Perfect Game 1st Team All-American Greg Deichmann.
“The biggest hole for us is at third base,” said head coach Paul Mainieri. “The most underrated aspect of our team the last two years was the defense Ibarra brought to our team. I don’t expect anybody to be quite as good as him, but someone that can be serviceable and make the routine plays consistently.”
In addition to the hot corner, there are plenty of openings on the pitching staff as well, particularly in the weekend rotation. With Aaron Nola gone and nobody ever emerging as the Sunday starter last season, sophomore left hander Jared Poché is the only constant.
“I’m just going to come into the fall and just try and build off what I did last season,” said Poché, who posted a 9-3 record and 2.45 earned run average in 91.2 innings pitched as a freshman last season.
“That experience pitching against SEC hitters helps. I now know what I can get away with and what I can’t. The sky is the limit.”
But while Poché may be the leader in the clubhouse for the Friday night starting job, Mainieri isn’t conceding anything to him just yet, especially with a slew of talented freshmen in Jake Latz, Jake Godfrey, Alex Lange and Doug Norman.
“I say he’s got a good shot to be in the weekend rotation, but that’s not a lock,” Mainieri explained. “The way to keep him inspired is to give him a goal, to dangle a carrot in front of him. He wants to be the man, the leader of our pitching staff. He can go a long way in doing that this fall.”
Mainieri will get Poché and the rest of his players a lot of playing time in the many scrimmages throughout this next month. With the 2015 season still a long ways away, it is unlikely that any major decisions will be made.
However, that doesn’t decrease the importance of this next month for the team.
“Coach does a great job of approaching every practice as if we are playing in Omaha the next day,” said Bregman. “We treat the fall like we’re going to be playing for a national championship.”