HOOVER, ALA. -- Just after posting the story of Texas A&M’s Parker Ray and the road he took to the Aggie rotation, I found myself in a press conference where the starter for one team (Mike Oczypok, Alabama) and the closer of the other (Chris Cotton, LSU) were both walk-ons.
At the time, Coach Paul Mainieri gave the media a glimpse of Chris Cotton’s journey simply saying, “I’m going to cry like a baby when Chris Cotton graduates.” He went on to say that his walk-on turned closer gets the most out of the talent he has been given.
Now, on SEC Championship Sunday, LSU closer Chris Cotton has been named the SEC Baseball Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Cotton closed three games in three days and did not allow a base runner. In the final versus Vanderbilt, he pitched 2.2 innings in a game that the Tigers won 4-3 in the 11th.
Entering with the game tied, put him in line for the win, but did not allow him to tie the LSU save record held by Matty Ott. “Four years ago, I didn’t expect to be here. It’s been a long journey. Playing for LSU has been a dream,” Cotton said post game.
Coach Mainieri took the opportunity to elaborate on where Cotton’s words came. Mainieri said he only brought the freshman on the team because he liked how he threw strikes. He was not overpowering or crafty, but he threw strikes.
In that year, Mainieri says he used Cotton once because he knew the opposition was going to sac bunt, and as soon as the batter did as expected, Chris Cotton’s day was finished.
Cotton, as did Ray, continued to work hard and persevere despite the fact that he was not as naturally gifted as players you may see in a program as LSU’s. His work paid off so well that Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn had to make a decision how to use the now senior. He could easily have been a number three starter or a set up man, but the veteran coaches knew they could not win in the SEC without a dominating closer.
Facing and retiring 17 batters in a tournament that was a close as the 2013 SEC Baseball Tournament could be called dominating. The All-Tournament voters seemed to think so. Cotton was joined on the team by Christian Ibarra, Jared Foster, and Sean McMullen.
Foster, along with Chris Sciambra came off the bench against Vanderbilt to help bring the championship trophy back to Baton Rouge.
Mainieri had one other thing he wanted the media to know, Cotton and teammate Raph Rhymes are not allowed to cut their curly locks- coach’s rule.