BATON ROUGE, La. — Alex Bregman had already made up his mind to turn down the Boston Red Sox and instead enroll at LSU as he watched upstart Stony Brook celebrate a College World Series berth following their upset of the Tigers in Baton Rouge last year.
The next day, Bregman logged on to the social media site Twitter and guaranteed the Tigers would get to Omaha in 2013, when he would be their new shortstop.
“I knew I would be able to make a difference and expected I could do even more than I’ve done so far,” said Bregman, recently named the national freshman hitter of the year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and All-America by Baseball America. “I’m just happy we’re in Omaha and that’s the main reason I came to school. I just wanted to win a national championship.”
Thanks to a foundation of youth that includes players like Bregman, freshman outfielder Mark Laird and the sophomore ace of the pitching staff, Aaron Nola, LSU (57-9) will be among the favorites in Omaha after tying a school record for wins. The Tigers open play on Sunday against UCLA, and the so-far unbeatable Nola (12-0), will be on the mound.
Mason Katz is among the four-year seniors who would have comprised the first class since 1982 not to make at least one trip to Omaha during their LSU careers had the Tigers not made it this year. Katz is quick to give credit to rise of younger players.
“Those were pieces we were missing from last year,” Katz said.
Nola was 7-4 as a freshman. This season, he has been arguably the best pitcher in college baseball.
He is seemingly able to put his fastball, breaking ball and off-speed pitches wherever he wants.
But what also impresses Nola’s coaches and teammates is the hurler’s unshakable confidence and mental toughness.
For coach Paul Mainieri, one of Nola’s defining moments came in the NCAA regional round, when three errors committed behind him allowed Sam Houston a five-run first inning. Nola responded with six shutout innings as LSU roared back.