With the slight Harahan twang in his voice, LSU first baseman Mason Katz abandoned his straitlaced and well-mannered demeanor when posed a question he’s gotten ad nauseam since July.
Eight months removed from watching his College World Series dream go by the wayside on a humid June night in Alex Box Stadium, Katz kept his brutal honesty when describing his feeling coming into the dugout, watching as Stony Brook rejoiced in its exploits.
“[Like] shit,” Katz said matter-of-factly.
Determined not to culminate his senior season with the same fate, Katz, with fellow senior and “bash brother” Raph Rhymes, will lead the No. 10 Tiger squad on the first step of their journey to redemption, welcoming ACC foe Maryland to Baton Rouge.
Rhymes said he and Katz have taken it upon themselves to educate the transfers and true freshmen of the goals of the season, always vigilant of the possibilities that lie ahead.
“We’ve got to keep that goal in mind,” Rhymes said. “We’ve got to be leaders and set the example for the younger guys so we don’t have that same feeling [at the end of the season].”
While graduation and the MLB Draft took their toll on Paul Mainieri’s squad, the seventh-year coach stressed he hasn’t dwelled on the bitter ending to last season, only focusing on the tremendous potential he sees from this season’s squad.
“Everybody wants to keep bringing it up because it’s the last thing that happened,” Mainieri said. “All I preach to the kids is we hope we can get ourselves to the same position this year that we were in last year.”
To get in that position, the Tigers will face a Terrapin club that Mainieri said poses the toughest opening weekend challenge in his seven years at the helm.
Freshman shortstop Alex Bregman, hitting in the three-hole ahead of Katz and Rhymes, will anchor a more powerful LSU lineup than last season while providing a sure hand on the left side of the infield.
Though he’s played in showcases and all-star games before, Bregman said he can’t fathom the atmosphere under the lights tonight with almost 10,000 screaming fans.
“I heard it’s unbelievable,” Bregman said. “The intensity is out of this world and everyone is excited to get the season going.”
The Terps, an upstart program by Mainieri’s standards, face valiant competition in the ACC with the likes of North Carolina, Miami (FL) and Virginia and will start the weekend with senior southpaw Jimmy Reed on the mound tonight.
Tiger sophomore righty Aaron Nola will counter, fulfilling one of his season goals as the opening night starter. The Baton Rouge native and strike-zone
aficionado finished last season with 89 strikeouts in 89.2 innings.
Fellow Baton Rouge native and sophomore Chris Sciambra will lead off for LSU, fully recovered after suffering a grisly neck injury against Auburn last season, while true freshman Mark Laird will step in at right field and hit second.
Mainieri marveled at the rate his team gelled together, a rate he hasn’t seen in over three decades.
“I already like this team and we haven’t even played a game yet,” Mainieri said. “It’s time to line it up and play.”