When the LSU baseball team steps its first step on what it hopes will be a road leading to Omaha, it will do so away from the friendly confines of Alex Box Stadium.
The 38-20 Tigers – 26-9 at The Box this season, 10-7 on the road and 2-4 in neutral sites games – opened play at 6 p.m. CT Friday (ESPN+, Louisiana Sports Radio Network 98.1-FM) as the No. 2 seed in the Southern Miss-hosted Hattiesburg Regional against No. 3 seed Kennesaw State (36-26) at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
LSU has never advanced to the College World Series by winning both a Regional and Super Regional on the road.
First-year LSU coach Jay Johnson, however, doesn’t seem concerned that the Tigers must open the NCAA Tournament and start the path to the CWS in Omaha, Nebraska, somewhere other than home.
“I love doing things that have never been done before,” said Johnson, whose Tigers blew whatever shot that may have had at hosting a Regional by losing to No. 1 overall Tennessee and Kentucky after opening last week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama, with a win over No. 12 tournament seed Kentucky.
“The (NCAA) selection committee decided we’re playing on the road. We’re not changing their mind now, and I think we’re excited and ready to roll.
“The success we had in the SEC this season should give our team great confidence,” Johnson added. “We swept the defending national champion (Mississippi State) on the road. We swept the national runners-up (Vanderbilt) on the road. We won two out of three at Florida, which has been one of the premium programs in college baseball for the last 13, 14 years.”
LSU ended its regular season with a sweep of Vanderbilt, an NCAA Tournament team again this season.
“If that doesn’t give our team confidence,” Johnson said of three road series he referenced, “I don’t know what will. This week will be all about being in the right frame of mind and playing good baseball.”
Host Southern Miss opens with No. 4 seed Army in the Hattiesburg Regional’s other opening game Friday at 1 p.m. CT.
“It’s a great regional field in Hattiesburg and we’re excited to be a part of it,” Johnson said.
“My teams (at Arizona) have gotten to Omaha entirely from the road, and they’ve gotten to Omaha from our home stadium, so I know it can be done both ways.”
Johnson went 208-114 overall including three College World Series over six seasons at Arizona before taking over this year at LSU.
“I’m just really excited for this team, to be going to the NCAA Tournament, to have a 38-win regular season while going through a lot of adversity,” he said.
“To do all of that and to play the road schedule that we did, I think it’s a great accomplishment, and it should give our team a lot of confidence going forward. Right now, all that matters is going forward.”
Johnson really does love the makeup of his club, which lacks quality starting pitching depth but has solid bats and one of the nation’s top centerfielders in Dylan Crews, the co-SEC Player of the Year.
“There are some unique things about our team that make us tough to play,” he said. “I think Dylan Crews is the best player in the country. (LSU third baseman) Jacob Berry hit .400 in SEC games this season.
“I think that makes us incredibly difficult to deal with. For the last month-and-a-half, we just haven’t had everybody in the lineup at the same time due to injuries.
“I think that speaks to the strength of our team; we’re still standing here, and we were on the cusp of playing a Regional at home when we haven’t been fully healthy,” he added. “I feel good about our team and how they’ll respond to the challenges we’ll face this weekend.”