No. 9 LSU opens the 2014 baseball season tonight with hopes it's the start of another trip to Omaha. The Tigers will face New Orleans tonight at 7 p.m. in Alex Box Stadium, then meet the Privateers again Saturday at 2 p.m. at Zephyr Field. LSU will close the weekend with a 4 p.m. contest Sunday against Grambling back in Baton Rouge.
"We're so ready to go and get this season started," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "We're anxious because we think we have a good team, but we're also anxious because hope springs eternal at the start of baseball season."
LSU – So. RHP Aaron Nola (12-1, 1.57 ERA, 126.0 IP, 18 BB, 122 SO in 2013)
UNO – Sr. RHP Raymond Winter (2-3, 2.81 ERA, 32.0 IP, 5 BB, 20 SO in 2013)
LSU – Jr. LHP Kyle Bouman (transfer from Jefferson County (Mo.) Community College)
UNO – Jr. RHP Alex Smith (3-9, 4.50 ERA, 100.0 IP, 28 BB, 52 SO in 2013)
LSU – Fr. LHP Jared Poche' (true freshman from Lutcher (La.) High School)
GSU – TBA
LSU faced both of these teams a year ago, earning victories in each contest. Neither one of LSU's opponents finished the 2013 season with a winning record, but don't expect the Tigers to take either one lightly.
LSU will treat these early non-conference games as somewhat of an experiment with several spots in the starting lineup and pitching rotation still up for grabs.
Two newcomers will take the mound for LSU this weekend with hopes of winning the Sunday spot in the rotation. Bouman, who will pitch on the road Saturday, comes from Jefferson County (Mo.) Community College after starting his career at Wichita State. Bouman started nine games last year for JCCC and finished with a 5-3 record and a 1.70 ERA.
Bouman calls his own pitching repertoire "nothing too fancy" as he's not necessarily a hard thrower, but he can certainly pound the strike zone. He's looking forward to making his LSU debut.
"There will be a little bit of nerves there," Bouman said. "But I just have to remember it's just another game. But there will definitely be some nerves putting on a LSU uniform for the first time…If you would've told me this a year ago, I wouldn't have been able to even imagine it."
Both pitchers this weekend should like what they see from the opponents' lineups. Grambling hit just .268 as a team last season, while UNO mustered only a .228 team batting average. Mainieri's optimistic these new pitchers will transition seamlessly to this level of baseball.
"I guess we'll find out [if they can handle the pressure]," Mainieri said. "I believe in them, or else I wouldn't be giving them the ball."
Among the position players, LSU has three players competing for the starting spots at catcher and first base. Mainieri calls Tyler Moore, Chris Chinea and Kade Scivicque his "three-headed monster" behind the plate, and two of those three will start most games at these two positions.
Chinea will get the Opening Day nod behind the plate with Moore starting at first base. On Saturday, Moore will move to catcher with Scivicque stepping in at first. Scivicque will catch the weekend finale with Chinea manning first base.
The Tigers will be without starting center fielder Andrew Stevenson for the season opener. He suffered a minor quad injury during a preseason scrimmage, and Sean McMullen will start in his place tonight. Mainieri does expect Stevenson to return to the starting lineup for Saturday and Sunday's games.
Offensively, LSU will have a lot to replace from last year's team. With guys like Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes no longer on campus, the Tigers will have to find a way to match that production.
LSU will face some talented starters in the UNO pitching staff. Friday night's starter Raymond Winter was the Privateers' top reliever a year ago, finishing with a 2.81 ERA in 20 appearances. Alex Smith, who'll start Saturday, led UNO in wins in 2013, but did have some consistency issues, so he'll be looking for a more promising start to this season.
But really these Tigers are just ready to put all the projection behind them and finally take the field.
"It's go time now," said sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman. "We're just playing to win. I'm just ready. It's a process though, and we just have to play the game to win and have fun."