LSU’s Chris Sciambra has career night in return to field

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND --  LSU's Mason Katz (8), center, leads the team in a pre-game huddle, opening their game against Maryland in Alex Box Stadium Friday, Feb. 15, 2013.
Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- LSU's Mason Katz (8), center, leads the team in a pre-game huddle, opening their game against Maryland in Alex Box Stadium Friday, Feb. 15, 2013.

Just taking the field for the LSU Tigers on Friday was a triumph in itself for center fielder Chris Sciambra after the frightening injury he suffered last season.

Just how big a part he played in LSU’s 1-0 victory over Maryland in the 2013 season opener was almost beyond remarkable.

Playing his first game since he broke his C1 vertebrae March 25 colliding with the outfield wall at Auburn, Sciambra recorded his first collegiate four-hit game and scored the only run in the No. 3 Tigers’ 1-0 victory over the Terrapins at chilly, windswept Alex Box Stadium.

For Sciambra, it was a deeply meaningful step forward.

“It was amazing,” he said. “The fans were great tonight. I was feeding off their energy. It was really a blessing to be able to be back out here playing again. I think that can put to rest any questions about last year.”

Sciambra’s injury, suffered as he attempted to track down a fly ball, didn’t require surgery but left his neck immobilized in a brace for four months. He was cleared to return in time for fall practice, then was told by coach Paul Mainieri he would return to his old starting spot in center field midway through preseason practice.

“If you never knew about his injury, he would still be a good ball player,” Mainieri said. “But to know he came back from what he came back from and to play the way he plays I think is a great testament to the human spirit.”

Could it be that Sciambra version 2.0 is better than the original?

“I don’t think that’s going to be an aberration,” Mainieri said. “I think he’s going to do that on a regular basis. Not get four hits, but give you good at bats. Since fall practice, he’s been playing like this almost every day.

“He works counts, goes deep in counts, battles you to the end and draws walks. He’s just a pesky guy.”

Sciambra added to his dramatic return by recording his first three hits with two strikes. He started by leading off for LSU with a soft liner slapped back up the middle for the season’s first hit.

In the third, he smacked a 1-2 pitch down the left-field line off Maryland starter Jimmy Reed. Sciambra took third on a groundout to short by right fielder Mark Laird and scored on a bouncing single past second base by freshman shortstop Alex Bregman.

Sciambra made it 3-for-3 in the fifth, snaking a 2-2 pitch back up the middle with two outs. In the seventh, he looked like he would finally make an out, looping a two-out, 2-1 pitch to left field. Maryland’s Michael Montville made a diving stab at the ball but was only able to trap it as Sciambra collected his fourth hit.

Defensively, there were no anxious dances with the outfield wall for Sciambra, just a pair of routine fly balls in the eighth and ninth innings to help LSU preserve the win.

“I sure learned a lot watching from the bench,” Sciambra said. “It lit a fire under me not being able to play. I’ve never not played before. The rehab sure wasn’t fun at some points, but there was always something to keep me going in the training room. Looking forward to this season and playing for the best program in the country. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

“I would have done anything that it took to get back from that injury to play this season.”

For a night at least, Sciambra didn’t look like he was back — but like he never left.