By Zachary Junda
Hey LSU baseball fans, y’all still bummed about losing to Houston in regionals? Are you watching the Vanderbilt (a team LSU run-ruled in Hoover not that long ago) in the College World Series Championship Series, thinking what could have been?
Losing sucks. Losing at home in a winner take all game while your team was on a hot streak is even worse. And because LSU lost to Houston and failed to make it to Omaha for the second time in three years, LSU baseball has been put on the backburner for now and the countdown to football season has officially begun.
Not so fast.
What is a better way than to put a bow on Paul Mainieri’s eighth season as the coach at LSU than to look through the years and pick the best players throughout his tenure. An All-Mainieri team if you will.
While this probably won’t ease the pain about losing to Houston, maybe a refresher on the Mainieri era will dry a few eyes from this past season and baseball in general. Let’s start with the pitching staff.
Aaron Nola (2012-2014)
The past two years as LSU’s Friday night starter, Nola posted a 23-2 record with a 1.52 ERA. That’s so mind blowing I’ll say it again: the past two years Nola was 23-2 with a 1.52 ERA. He’s the best LSU pitcher since Ben McDonald and he finished third in strikeouts and fifth in wins in LSU history. He was on the Freshman All-American team in 2012, and made back-to back All-American teams in 2013 and 2014; those two years he was also the conference pitcher of the year. He’s a 2014 Golden Spikes award finalist. And yet despite all of that, it still doesn’t do his career justice. The accolades don’t properly describe the absolute domination you’d get from him every Friday night. Or the reassuring feeling you’d get seeing him take the mound to start a game. It was almost comforting having him pitch for the Tigers. You couldn’t help but think “you know what… LSU’s got this game. As long as the bats can get him a run or two in support, that’s all he’ll need.” And 99 percent of the time, Nola came through.
Kevin Gausman (2011-2012)
Gausman doesn’t have the career numbers like Nola, or the longevity since he only played at LSU for two seasons. But his peak season, which made him the fourth overall choice in the 2012 Draft, was just as good as any pitcher’s ever had at LSU. Gausman went 12-2 with a 2.77 ERA in 2012. Like Nola, Gausman had a certain affinity with the strikeout. In 2012, his 135 strikeouts were good for first in the SEC and third in the nation. As a freshman, his 86 strikeouts were good for eighth in the conference. Gausman may have only been the ace of Paul Mainieri’s staff once, but that lone year matches up with anyone else.
Louis Coleman (2006-2009)
The lone senior of this hypothetical weekend rotation, Coleman is the only guy who was both an effective starting pitcher and an arm you could count on coming out of the bullpen. A John Smoltz type, Coleman won 28 games (good for 9th all-time in LSU history) and saved six of them. Coleman even came on in relief and took the mound for the last two innings of the close out game against Texas in the 2009 World Series. Now that’s a guy I want in my foxhole. Coleman, like Gausman only had one great year as a starter, but what a year it was. Check out these numbers for Coleman’s 2009 season:
– 14-2 record with a 2.93 ERA
– In 129 innings of work, he struck out 142, only walked 23, and opponents hit .224 against him
– His 142 Ks were good for fourth in the nation and were also the eighth highest single season amount in school history; his 14 wins placed him second in the nation that season.
– In the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament run, Coleman appeared in six games, posting a 3-0 record and a modest 3.23 ERA in 30.2 innings of work
– In Omaha, Coleman appeared a team high four times, including two starts. He struck out 18 batters in 15 innings.
– He was a consensus first team All-American, SEC Pitcher of the Year, and, most importantly, an NCAA Champion.
Chris Cotton (2010-2013)
Cotton was an LSU Baseball fan favorite for all-time. Be it his underwhelming stature (5’10”, 166 lbs.), the way he always ran from the bullpen to the mound when it was go time, or his hair, people loved him. Cotton was an enigma of a closer, he never had overpowering stuff, and yet he still tied Matty Ott’s single season save record with 16 in 2013. What made Cotton an effective closer was his pitch placement. He could throw the ball exactly where the bat wasn’t. It was Greg Maddux-like and he did that every time he was called upon in 2013. What may be most impressive, though, is that Cotton’s LSU career started as a walk-on after he made the team as a freshman through a try out.
Matty Ott (2009-2011)
Ott was the guy Mainieri turned to slam the door shut. In three years, Ott saved 33 games which oh by the way is the all-time record at LSU. Ott’s most impressive season has to be his freshman season in 2009. As a kid one year removed from high school baseball at Holy Cross, Ott set a new single season record for saves with 16. He even added a 4-2 record with a 2.68 ERA to boot. And, hello, he was the closer of a national title winning team!