Devall battles for role in LSU bullpen

Published 12:17 am Tuesday, March 4, 2014

By Jake Martin

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — While LSU baseball coaches currently piece together a starting rotation and find a closer, former Centreville Academy pitcher Hunter Devall continues to grind in relief.

Once thought to be the Tigers’ starting closer in 2014, junior college transfer Brady Domangue has struggled in the early going, stumbling in an attempt to adapt to playing against higher-level competition.

Devall can relate. After all, he made the jump as a true freshman.

“You go from 2A private school baseball to playing elite competition in the SEC, it’s a completely different game,” Devall said. “It’s tough to get used to being in different roles.”

To Devall’s credit, he seemingly adjusted with ease. The left-handed sophomore won three games, posted a 2.65 ERA in 17 innings and worked four shutout innings to help LSU rally from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Alcorn State on April 2, 2013.

His early success didn’t take Devall’s high school head coach Jason Horne by surprise.

“He was a bulldog on the mound,” said Horne, thinking back to Devall’s playing days at Centreville.

The best part of his freshman experience, you might ask? That’s an easy answer for Devall — getting to pitch in Alex Box Stadium, which has led the NCAA in attendance for 18 straight seasons.

“It’s a thrill,” Devall said. “Honestly, I can’t even describe it. It’s definitely amazing.”

In his sophomore campaign, Devall refuses to play politics by lobbying for LSU’s vacant closer position left by Chris Cotton, who was the 2013 SEC Tournament MVP.

When asked if he would rather serve in a closing role or provide relief for the Tigers, Devall simply said he wants to do exactly what head coach Paul Maineri instructs, all while improving alongside his teammates in the bullpen.

“We don’t really look at it like it’s one versus another,” Devall said. “We’re justtrying to get better every day.”

After tinkering with some of his mechanics in the offseason, Devall believes he’s done just that. He has gained more control of his pitching arsenal after tightening up his off-speed pitches in the offseason, specifically his curveball and changeup.

“He went out to Michigan, made the all star team and got his curveball back working,” Horne said.

Devall started nine games for the Battle Creek Bombers in the 2013 Northwood Summer League, where he recorded 43 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA through 43 innings.

Devall credits LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn for helping with his advancement. Dunn has manufactured an LSU pitching staff that’s seventh in the nation in ERA.

“He’s had such a huge impact on my career,” Devall said. “He’s taught me to go out there and trust what I have. He makes just the right tweaks to certain players’ mechanics.”

It was Devall’s raw mechanics and strong arm that allowed him to boast a .98 ERA through 71 innings as a senior at Centreville High School. His 140 strikeouts earned him All-State, All-Metro and All-District honors. Devall even married into the family of his former high school coach.

“He’s a part of the family now,” Horne said. “I like to keep in touch with all of my former players, but obviously, I keep up with him even more. We go to church together a lot. And you bet there’s a lot of baseball talk at the dinner table.”

In the midst of pitching relief innings for the Tigers in 2014, Devall is continuing to excel as a pitcher, allowing just one hit and no runs through 1.2 innings before giving up two runs against Yale Sunday, further contributing to one of the hottest pitching staffs in college baseball.