Tigers No. 1 ahead of season

According to Collegiate Baseball preseason poll

It doesn’t mean much at this point, but LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri will take it anyway.

Two months before the season opens, the Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the nation in Collegiate Baseball magazine’s preseason poll.

"Being ranked No. 1 is always something in which I take a great deal of pride," Mainieri said. "There are 300 Division I baseball playing schools across the country and to think someone believes you are the best team in the land is inspiring."

It’s the eighth straight year the Tigers will begin the year in Collegiate Baseball’s top ten, but the first time they have been No. 1 preseason since 2009 — when LSU won the last of its six national championships.

"Just the thought of it being so close gets my blood pumping," Mainieri said. "I know our wonderful fans are as excited as I am about a new season and the possibilities of what it might bring."

As usual, the SEC dominates the rankings. The Tigers are one of three SEC teams in the top ten as Vanderbilt is No. 2 and Florida is No. 6.

Other SEC teams are No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 13 Georgia, No. 23 Auburn, No. 25 Arkansas, No. 27 Mississippi State and No. 29 Texas A&M.

The Tigers will add the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class to team bolstered by the return of at least three players who were expected to enter pro ball after last season.

But pitchers Zach Hess along with outfielders Antoine Duplantis and Zach Watson decided to return for a final year of college.

It gives them six returning everyday starters along with outfielder Daniel Cabrera, and infielders Josh Smith, Brandt Broussard and Hal Hughes.

The pitching staff features junior Hess, the Tigers’ No. 1 weekend starter in 2018, and sophomore right-hander Eric Walker, a 2017 Freshman All-American who missed last season due to Tommy John surgery. Also returning is 2018 Freshman All-American right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard.

"I have a sense that we have something special brewing with this team," Mainieri said. "Of course, having Hess, Watson, and Duplantis delay their pro careers for one more run at Omaha is very important. Getting Smith and Walker back this year after virtually missing all of last season due to injuries is vital to us, plus having other veterans like Cabrera, Peterson, Beck, Hilliard, Gilbert, Hughes, Broussard, and Fontenot providing the leadership that is so desperately needed."

The recruiting class has nine pitchers and seven position players, including seven that were taken in last summer’s Major League draft.

"To have such a tremendously talented new class of guys gives me a lot of confidence in this group," Mainieri said. "Being around them also makes you aware that they carry themselves with a significant level of maturity and belief in themselves."””<p>LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri.</p>Associated Press

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