College baseball begins this weekend, and as always, LSU has College World Series aspirations. Below, staff writer Wilson Alexander breaks down what needs to happen for the No. 7 Tigers to reach the College World Series for the first time since 2017.
1. Throw down
LSU had one of the best pitching staffs in the country last season — it limited hitters to a .186 batting average — and the Tigers returned everyone but Friday night starter Cole Henry while adding some promising freshmen. Sophomore Jaden Hill will replace Henry in the weekend rotation. Not much else changed. The collective talent and experience make the pitchers the backbone of LSU’s team once again. The Tigers have an unproven lineup, so they might need the staff to create low-scoring games. Pitching has propelled LSU deep into the postseason before. It can carry them toward championship contention.
2. Hill reaches potential
For brief moments during his career, Jaden Hill has shown ability rarely seen in college baseball. He allowed two runs over two starts as a freshman. He surrendered one hit in 11⅔ scoreless innings while pitching out of the bullpen as a sophomore. After he struck out six batters over three scoreless innings against Texas, coach David Pierce said, “I don’t know why Hill is in college.” But Hill has pitched 21⅔ career innings because of an elbow injury and the coronavirus pandemic. He could become the No. 1 overall pick. He just has to last the entire season.
Jaden Hill has hurtled toward stardom since his childhood in Ashdown. He can finally reach it with LSU, and once he does, he plans to do more than pitch.
3. Faith in freshmen
LSU will likely start three true freshmen — right fielder Dylan Crews, first baseman Tre’ Morgan and a third baseman to be decided — on opening day. It may plug more into the lineup throughout the season. With only a couple experienced position players, the Tigers will rely heavily on their talented freshmen, who have never played a college game and never faced a Southeastern Conference opponent. They may need time to adjust to the heightened level of pitching. They’ll probably experience rough patches. But LSU has to maintain its faith in the freshmen. It doesn’t have a choice.
4. Avoid coronavirus
With coronavirus still spread throughout the country, an outbreak could strike LSU at any time, forcing cancellations or key players into isolation. The Tigers instituted protocols, such as mask mandates within the dugouts, and installed extra benches in the bullpen to create space between players. They need to follow public health guidelines, particularly off the field, so they avoid the virus throughout the season. Otherwise, LSU could enter a weekend series without its most important players, making it difficult to compete in the loaded Southeastern Conference. Teams that remain healthy have a better chance of winning championships.
Both games will now begin at 4 p.m. this weekend.
5. Rapid development
LSU already had an inexperienced lineup last season. Then the coronavirus pandemic arrived after 17 games. The sudden ending halted player development, and though LSU will use its true freshmen, it expects players already on the team last season to fill important roles. LSU needs sophomores and juniors like second baseman Cade Doughty, catcher Alex Milazzo, center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo and potential designated hitter Gavin Dugas to play like they completed an entire season last year, even though they never had the chance. Only two players have more than 100 career at-bats, but runs have to come from somewhere.
Plenty of times last season, Cade Doughty swung through a pitch with the heart of his bat, making contact in the middle of the barrel — only f…