Gilligan’s last stand: Longtime LU baseball coach writing final chapter

Published 4:42 pm Saturday, January 30, 2016

BEAUMONT — Will Davis has gotten to spend time with the Lamar baseball team he’ll take over following this season, the 39th and last under Jim Gilligan.

“We’ve been talking baseball,” Gilligan said Saturday, the team’s second day of practice. “We just had a session before everybody came out for practice on bunting, and I wanted to get his idea on bunting. So, we’re on the same page. I want him to be able to teach my philosophies. I want to know his philosophies. He comes from a great program and has been to the College World Series several times, so I definitely want to pick the brain of someone from a program like that.”

Davis resigned almost two weeks ago as an assistant at alma mater LSU to come to Beaumont, but he is serving in an unofficial capacity within the Lamar athletic department that’s expected to become official by Monday. Gilligan, 69, is expecting his successor, who was announced Jan. 15 as Lamar’s next head coach, to work as a third-base coach this season.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Davis, 31, declined to talk about any potential capacity for this season as nothing has become official. But he did say Saturday that he and Gilligan have “meshed great.”

“I’ve always known about coach Gilligan because my dad [former Louisiana Tech coach Randy Davis] coached against him and [former LSU coach and athletic director] Skip Bertman, who is another mentor, is very good friends with coach Gilligan,” Will Davis said. “Something I really wanted to do, and I really wanted to get another hall-of-famer on my resume before he retires and see how he does things. [Gilligan] basically has been the guy running the show for the last 39 years, for the most part. So, it’s good to always come in and be able to see how someone before you did it instead of you just asking how they did it.”

If and when the assistant role becomes official, Davis would replace Jim Ricklefsen, who recently resigned after two decades on Gilligan’s staff.

“Jimmy did a lot for this program,” Gilligan said. “Look around this program and I look at the brick wall. He’s the guy who got that going. A lot of things around this ballpark [Vincent-Beck Stadium], his hard work produced.”

Senior third baseman Jake Nash said that Davis has become “part of the guys” since coming to Lamar.

“He’s a great guy, and you can tell he really cares about the future of the program,” he said. “He’s really going to push us to get better, so I think it’s going to be a smooth transition going forward.”

For his last rodeo, Gilligan has been excited about Lamar’s chances to rebound from a 21-31 season (10-19 in the Southland Conference). He returns three players who batted better than .300 in seniors Stijn van der Meer (.351) and Nash (.324) and junior Cutter McDowell (.349).

“Going off the fall and what we’ve seen so far, I think we’ll have a really dangerous ballclub as far as swinging the bat is concerned,” said Nash, who’s expected to miss the first two weeks of practice with a broken bone in his left foot. “A lot of pop. I think everybody in our lineup has the power to go yard at any time. I think the main thing is staying consistent, but I think we’ll have a dangerous club as far as hitting the ball this year.”

Lamar as a team batted .289 last season, just better than its opponents’ .275 clip. But Gilligan said the Cardinals have power and will hit for average.

The Cardinals have been blessed with plenty of heat in the pitching rotation. Seniors Will Hibbs and Enrique Oquendo threw up to 94 mph, Gilligan said, during Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage.

Hibbs, who went 2-1 with a 5.66 ERA as a junior, is coming off a pitcher-of-the-year honor in the Alaska Baseball League over the past summer, playing for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots.

“And I was mad because I gave up one run in the final game, or I would have had the total ERA record, but I had to settle for the season record,” he said.

The experience, however, gave the three-year LU letterman an edge going into his senior year.

“The night-and-day difference between me last season and this season is changeup,” Hibbs said. “I found my changeup. I feel like a new pitcher. I have so much more confidence with pitch sequences that I can throw to pitchers on different counts, and it opens up the mind-game of pitching to throw different pitchers to different batters on different counts. That’s awesome.”

Hibbs and the rest of the pitching staff will try out their old and new stuff when the season begins Feb. 19 with a home series against Southeast Missouri State. The three-game set starts a 14-game home stand for the Cards including one-game visits by Arizona (Feb. 22), LSU (Feb. 24) and Rice (March 8).

“Nothing fires me up than to be able to face the best hitters because, as a pitcher trying to be the best pitcher I can be, why would you not want to face the best hitters in the country?” Hibbs said. “While I love throwing under the lights on Friday nights with a bunch of crowds and all that stuff, nothing gets you amped up more than throwing against the premier or top-ranked hitters in the country, because that really lets you establish and recognize your true talent and ability on the mound. Those early-season power games, for lack of better terms — you’ll see it across our pitching staff — we were as excited as you can ever imagine for those teams.”


About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

email author More by I.C.