LSU baseball opens season vs. Maryland

LSU’s previous baseball game ended with the Tigers walking off the Alex Box Stadium field dejectedly on a warm night in June.

A 7-2 loss to Stony Brook in a super-regional winner-take-all left LSU a game short of a trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.

Eight months later on what’s forecast to be a frigid Friday night, the Tigers return to Alex Box to begin the season against Maryland in the opener of a three-game series.

For LSU, this season is all about taking that final step and returning to Omaha after a three-year absence. Friday night, though, is merely the first of 56 regular-season steps that the Tigers hope will set them up for a deeper postseason run.

“We realize we can’t just pick up this season where last season ended,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “We have a lot of work to do to get where we need to be at the end of the season. …

“I don’t like standing here and knowing that we haven’t been to Omaha in three years. Every year, you roll out of bed at LSU and the goal is to go to Omaha and win when you get there. I know that is the goal. That is my goal, which is why I came to LSU. I know that everyone who follows the program has that same goal, and anything short of that ends up being disappointing.”

LSU appears to have the talent to make a run toward Omaha: It’s ranked No. 3, 4 and 10 in the most prominent preseason polls.

The Tigers are the reigning Southeastern Conference champions, having finished 19-11 in the league and 47-18 overall last season.

Sophomore right-hander Aaron Nola of Catholic High School gets first crack at the Friday night starter’s role vacated when Kevin Gausman signed with the Baltimore Orioles after he was the first pitcher selected in the draft last summer.

The Terrapins, 32-24 and 10-20 in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season, are slated to start left-hander Jimmy Reed.

The LSU roster features nine position players who have started, but left fielder Raph Rhymes, second baseman JaCoby Jones and catcher Ty Ross are the only Tigers starting in the same position where they were at the end of last season.

Sophomore Chris Sciambra of Catholic is back in center field, where he was the starter before suffering a season-ending neck injury last March. He’s joined by freshman right fielder Mark Laird, one of three newcomers in the outfield.

Senior Mason Katz has moved from right field to first base and third to fifth in the batting order. Katz’s move makes room for freshman Alex Bregman to bat third as he steps in at shortstop for Austin Nola, Aaron’s older brother. Bregman is joined by junior-college third baseman Christian Ibarra to form a new left side of the infield.

Lagniappe

Alex Edward will be the designated hitter Friday, and Tyler Moore will be the DH on Saturday when Maryland throws a right-hander. ... Austin Nola and Brett Laxton will throw out first pitches. Nola’s pitch will be caught by former third baseman Tyler Hanover, who along with Nola manned the left side of the infield for the past three-plus seasons. “I wish I could’ve caught the pitch; that would’ve been cool for me,” Aaron said. “... It’s going to be real special for my parents.” Laxton will commemorate the 20th anniversary of LSU’s 1993 College World Series champion team. ... LSU and Maryland have never met. ... LSU will introduce several new items to the menu for its concession stands.

Luke Johnson contributed to this report.