www.lsusports.net Baseball Team Opens Practice for 2003 Season 01/18/03 BATON ROUGE -- The sixth-ranked LSU baseball squad began its 2003 pre-season workouts Saturday morning at the Indoor Football Facility before concluding the day with afternoon drills at Alex Box Stadium. "I think everyone is anxious to get back on the field," head coach Smoke Laval said. "We have three weeks to get ready for the first series against a very good Northwestern State club." The Tigers, ranked No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 7 by ESPN/Sports Weekly and No. 9 by Baseball America, open the '03 season Feb. 7 versus Northwestern State in Alex Box Stadium. Northwestern State is the two-time defending Southland Conference champion. Prior to the regular-season opener, LSU will play its annual Alumni Game on Feb. 1 against a team of former Tigers who are active in professional baseball. First pitch for the exhibition contest is 4 p.m. in Alex Box Stadium. LSU begins the second year of the Laval era with aspirations of returning to the College World Series for the first time since 2000, when the Tigers captured their fifth national championship. Laval, who in his first season directed LSU to a 44-22 record, an NCAA Super Regional berth and a No. 11 final national ranking, welcomes 12 returning lettermen and 18 new players for the ‘03 campaign. The Tigers will feature five starting position players and four starting pitchers from the 2002 team, which finished second in the SEC Western Division and won the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional in Alex Box Stadium. However, only one returning position player -- infielder Aaron Hill -- has played as a full-time starter during his LSU career. The other players withstarting experience have performed mostly on a platoon basis. Absent from the list of returning players is all-SEC third baseman Wally Pontiff, who tragically died in July due to abnormalities in his heart. Pontiff, a three-year starter and team leader, was also an Academic all-American with a 3.25 gpa in biological sciences. Filling the emotional void left by Pontiff's death will be of Laval's most difficult challenges this season. The pitching staff features three outstanding veteran starters in right-handers Jake Tompkins, Brian Wilson and Bo Pettit, who last season combined for 26 wins, six saves and 302.1 innings. However, the Tigers will likely be without the services of all-SEC left-hander Lane Mestepey, who underwent off-season shoulder surgery. Mestepey, who has won 22 games in two seasons, is expected to receive a medical redshirt this year and return to the mound in 2004 as a junior. Returning position players who started at least 20 of LSU's games last season include sophomore infielder/outfielder J.C. Holt (.349, 3 HR, 23 RBI in 2002), junior infielder Aaron Hill (.329, 9 HR, 47 RBI), sophomore infielder Blake Gill (.292, 1 HR, 26 RBI), senior first baseman Eric Wiethorn (.278, 3 HR, 17 RBI) and sophomore outfielder Jon Zeringue (.245, 2 HR, 8 RBI). Holt, named a 2002 second-team Freshman all-American by Baseball America, may be moved to center field this season after starting 35 games at second base in 2002. Hill, who helped lead the U.S. National Team last summer to the silver medal in the World University Games, was LSU's starting shortstop in 2002; however, he could be moved to third base in '03. Hill's move could give the starting shortstop position to true freshman Matt Horwath, who posted a .411 career batting average at Lake Mary (Fla.) High School. Gill, LSU's most versatile performer, is capable of playing all nine positions, and he will start either at first base or in the outfield. Wiethorn will also contend for playing time at first base, and he could serve as one of the Tigers' right-handed designated hitters. True freshman Will Harris of Slidell (La.) High School could also make an impact in the 1B/DH role. Ivan Naccarata, a transfer from Chipola (Fla.) Junior College, will occupy second base in '03. Naccarata was the 21st-round selection of the HoustonAstros in last summer's draft. Zeringue, who started 19 games in left field in '02, is projected to play right field this season. Along with Holt and Gill, other players who should make an impact in the outfield include junior college transfers Quinn Stewart (Odessa JC), Ryan Patterson (Texarkana College) and Bruce Sprowl (Shelton State CC). Rhett Buteau, used primarily as a pinch-runner in 2002, lends depth to all three outfield positions. The catching duties will likely be shared by true freshman Matt Liuzza, an all-state selection from Rummel High School in Metairie, La., and sophomore Dustin Weaver, who received a medical redshirt last season after suffering a knee injury. Senior right-hander Jake Tompkins should work in the starting rotation this season after serving as LSU's closer in 2002 (7-1, four saves, 2.68 ERA, 87.1 IP, 96 Ks). He was the 28th-round draft selection last summer of the Texas Rangers. Tompkins will be joined in the rotation by junior Brian Wilson (10-5, two saves, 3.54 ERA, 94 IP, 71 Ks) and senior Bo Pettit (9-7, 3.35 ERA, 121 IP, 121 Ks), who was selected last summer in the 13th round of the major league draft by the Minnesota Twins. Sophomore right-hander Clay Harris, who worked primarily as a middle reliever in 2002 (3-0, 4.15 ERA, 47.2 IP, 37 Ks) will provide valuable innings again in ‘03. Two hurlers recovering from arm surgery -- redshirt freshman left-hander Jason Determann and senior right-hander Chad Vaught -- hope to return to the mound early in the '03 campaign. The returning pitchers are complimented by a talented corps of freshmen and JC transfers. Right-handers Nate Bumstead (College of Southern Idaho) and Justin Meier (West Orange HS -- Windermere, Fla.) should work as mid-week starters. Right-handers Billy Sadler (Pensacola JC), Will Harris (Slidell, La., HS) and Justin Gee (Sarasota, Fla., HS), and left-hander Greg Smith (Alexandria, La., HS) will also make contributions on the hill. The Tigers' closer will be junior right-hander Brandon Nall, a transfer from Wallace State (Ala.) Community College. Nall, who features a side-arm delivery, recorded a 0.89 ERA in 20.2 innings during LSU's fall intra-squad games. 2003 Depth Chart (Tentative) First Base 3 Blake Gill L-R 5-10 200 So. 47 Eric Wiethorn R-R 6-2 200 Sr. 25 Will Harris R-R 6-4 230 Fr. Second Base 7 Ivan Naccarata L-R 5-11 185 Jr. 1 J.C. Holt L-R 5-9 170 So. 3 Blake Gill L-R 5-10 200 So. Shortstop 2 Matt Horwath R-R 5-10 170 Fr. 5 Aaron Hill R-R 6-0 200 Jr. Third Base 5 Aaron Hill R-R 6-0 200 Jr. 3 Blake Gill L-R 5-10 200 So. 21 Clay Harris R-R 6-4 225 So. Left Field 40 Quinn Stewart R-R 6-2 190 So. 3 Blake Gill L-R 5-10 200 So. Center Field 1 J.C. Holt L-R 5-9 170 So. 24 Bruce Sprowl L-R 5-9 165 So. Right Field 16 Jon Zeringue R-R 6-2 210 So. 28 Ryan Patterson R-R 5-11 195 So. Designated Hitter 25 Will Harris R-R 6-4 230 Fr. 28 Ryan Patterson R-R 5-11 195 So. 30 Bobby DiLiberto R-R 5-10 190 Jr. Weekend Pitching Rotation 12 Jake Tompkins RH 6-0 195 Sr. 38 Brian Wilson RH 6-1 205 Jr. 34 Bo Pettit RH 6-1 215 Sr. Mid-Week Starting Pitchers 21 Clay Harris RH 6-4 225 So. 41 Nate Bumstead RH 6-2 215 Jr. 35 Justin Meier RH 6-0 205 Fr. Relief Pitchers 8 Brandon Nall RH 6-3 185 Jr. 33 Jason Determann LH 5-11 160 Fr. 4 Billy Sadler RH 6-0 190 Jr. 27 Greg Smith LH 6-2 180 Fr. 25 Will Harris RH 6-4 230 Fr. 36 Justin Gee RH 6-3 200 Fr. 23 Chad Vaught RH 6-4 220 Sr. Any comments on the season or opponents this year?