BR.oralrobertslsu.030621 HS 716.JPG

LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas (6) celebrates after batting in LSU first baseman TreÕ Morgan against Oral Roberts, Friday, March 5, 2021, at Alex Box Stadium on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

Throughout LSU’s preseason practices, hitting coach Eddie Smith encouraged coach Paul Mainieri to believe in a junior with a .225 career batting average. Smith worked with Gavin Dugas every day. He saw potential for a breakout season.

Smith watched Dugas consistently hit the ball hard, a sign he made solid contact with power, even if he didn’t always reach base. It might take time for him to produce, but Smith thought Dugas had the ability to start and provide a powerful presence in the middle of the order. 

“Baseball's a tough balance,” Smith said. “It's a balance of — you've got to win right now, you've got to get it done right now. But it's also a game that comes down to the law of averages. 

“I'm a big blackjack player. I think when you have a guy who's hitting balls as hard as he hits balls as often as he hits balls, it's something that if the dealer deals you a 10, you might lose a few hands, but keep dealing me that 10. That's what I've seen out of Gavin Dugas. He just hits a lot of balls really hard.” 

Smith’s belief has paid out. Entering LSU’s game Wednesday night against UNO, Dugas was batting .348 with a six-game hitting streak, tied for the second-longest streak on the team behind freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan. He had two home runs, and he was tied with Morgan for the team-lead in RBIs with 15. 

“I think he’s if not the hottest hitter, one of the hottest hitters in our lineup right now,” sophomore infielder Cade Doughty said. “He’s seeing the ball really well. We really need him to step up, and that’s what he’s been doing the past couple games. It’s encouraging to see him play the way he’s playing right now. Hopefully he can continue the success.”

LSU sports news in your inbox

If you're a Tiger fan you won't want to miss this newsletter. Sign up today.

Dugas created the production by adopting a relaxed mental approach. He always had talent, but he used to get too excited and tried to do too much when he got an opportunity. After batting .186 during a freshman season reduced by a torn ligament in his left thumb, he focused on his mental approach while playing summer baseball.

Dugas returned and batted .333 with five doubles and two home runs during fall practice. Mainieri moved him to the outfield to help him relax and focus on hitting. The position change helped Dugas calm his mind. Then he recorded three hits through the first 10 games. He also missed time because of a concussion. 

Dugas finished the 2020 season 5 for 9 with two home runs in the last three games. He rose his batting average to .286, finally balancing the law of averages. And then the coronavirus pandemic arrived, ending the season.

“Gavin hits balls as hard as anybody we have, as often as anybody we have,” Smith said. “When you look at what he did in a really shortened season last year, that started to show as the sample size got a little bit bigger.”

Starting in left field, Dugas went 0 for 5 through the first two games, but as Smith believed, the hits arrived. He smashed a grand slam to spark LSU’s comeback win against Louisiana Tech — his first hit this season — and only has two hitless games since. 

As LSU approaches Southeastern Conference play, Dugas wants to keep himself relaxed. He tries to focus on the present instead of letting himself think about future possibilities, reminding himself of a favorite quote: “Let me be me.” 

“I think I took a little chill pill from the beginning of the season,” Dugas said. “After that first game, I took a step back and let myself be myself. I played relaxed and had fun and stopped thinking a little bit too much. Just getting in the box and having fun and being aggressive.

Email Wilson Alexander at walexander@theadvocate.com