The marathon begins: Gilligan’s final ride starts with nine games in 10 days

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, February 18, 2016

BEAUMONT — Jim Gilligan’s final season as Lamar’s baseball coach is a yearlong storyline in itself. Playing nine games in 10 days — all part of a 14-game home stand — is a chapter of many chapters.

Lamar takes the field for the first time this season Friday at Vincent-Beck Stadium, but its first opponent is no slouch. Southeast Missouri State, which went 36-23 last season, is the reigning Ohio Valley Conference champion.

Three of its players are placed on the Preseason All-OVC teams, including opening night starter Joey Lucchesi (7-2, 3.18 ERA last year), and seven of their starters are returning from 2015, Gilligan said.

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Senior right-hander Will Hibbs, who’ll start Friday for the Cardinals, embraces the 10-day challenge.

“We’re ready to hit the ground running,” Hibbs said, adding the closest stretch to the one the Cardinals are facing that he’s played was seven games in nine days last year. “It’s going to be business as usual for us. We’re ready to get on the field and get after it. … As a pitching staff, there’s nothing more we love than getting out there and pitching as often as we can.”

Hibbs hopes to carry over a strong performance in the Alaskan League into his final collegiate season. He had a league-best 0.46 average and went 3-0 playing for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots. He went 2-1 with a 5.66 ERA during his junior season.

“His last intrasquad game was the best I’ve ever seen him,” Gilligan said.

Gilligan also named Jayson McKinley and Fernando Martinez starters for Saturday and Sunday, but he added senior righty Billy Love could break into the weekend rotation soon. Love, whom Gilligan said is coming off rehab, threw up to 91 mph in a recent three-inning session.

“Billy is going to determine how we do this, how healthy he gets,” Gilligan said. “So, the healthier he gets, the better we are.”

As if the 10-day, nine-game stretch in itself isn’t enough of a marathon, welcoming Arizona on Monday makes it one, Gilligan said.

“It was probably a bad game to schedule because of all the games we scheduled, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring in a great team like Arizona into Beaumont here,” he said.

Arizona, which won the 2012 national championship under now-retired Andy Lopez, hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since, but the Wildcats finished 31-24 (12-18 in Pac-12) last season. Jay Johnson took over the program from Lopez in June after posting 41 wins last season at Nevada.

“The thing about playing [Arizona] our fourth game is that we’ll have gone through our top three pitchers, and they will have, too,” Gilligan said. “It’s sort of a battle of that other part of the staff. I’m not really worried about it. I’m just happy to bring Arizona in for our fans because they deserve to see that type of baseball.”

And then there’s LSU paying Lamar a visit on Wednesday. It will be the first time Lamar head coach-in-waiting Will Davis, who is coaching third base this season, faces his alma mater and employer of the past eight years.

“I feel like I have 11 different guys to where I can have different types of starting lineups and still be right,” Gilligan said. “Right now, I’m waiting for a couple of guys to grab the position. This time of year, they play their way on and off. But I feel good about the guys that we have starting for us. I think we have a team that has above-average power. That’s always scary for the opponent and fun for us.”

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.

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