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June 15, 2013

Same makeup for LSU's top pitchers

Pitchers Aaron Nola and Chris Cotton have been good-luck charms for the LSU's College World Series-bound team.

Nola, the No. 1 pitcher in the rotation, has made 16 starts this season. Nola has yet to taste defeat with 12 victories and four no-decisions. The Tigers have lost just one of Nola's 16 starts - against Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Cotton, the ninth-inning pitcher out of the bullpen, has made 36 appearances in this season. Cotton has tied the school record with 16 saves. In addition, Cotton has picked up four victories. LSU has lost just twice in games in which Cotton has appeared - both against South Carolina.

Cotton was the loser in one of those games against the Gamecocks. He allowed two ninth-inning runs as South Carolina defeated the Tigers 4-2. Nola and Cotton have pitched in the same game just seven times. So, Nola and/or Cotton have thrown in 45 games. LSU's record is 42-3 in those contests.

Both players' numbers have been spectacular. Nola, a first-team All-American and SEC Pitcher of the Year, has a 1.68 earned run average. Opposing hitters are batting .187 against Nola. Cotton has a 1.23 ERA. Opposing hitters have a .158 against Cotton.

No team in Omaha has a better combination at the head of the rotation and at the back end of the bullpen than the Tigers with Nola and Cotton. Nola may throw eight to ten miles per hour faster than Cotton, but there are a lot of similarities between the two pitchers.

"The mental makeup is the same for both guys," LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said. "Any successful pitcher or player has the ability to get in the proper frame of mind. The two throw their stuff a little differently. But, both can do the same thing - they are strike-throwers. They both pitch with conviction."

Both Nola and Cotton have pinpoint control. Nola has walked 17 batters in 118 innings - one every seven innings. Cotton has walked three batters in 36 innings - one every 12 innings. Nola is averaging nine strikeouts per nine innings. Cotton is slightly better with 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

Nola has been a part of a rotation which had two highly-drafted pitchers the past two Junes. Last year, Kevin Gausman was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles. Last week, Ryan Eades was the second-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins.

Undoubtedly, Nola has held his own with these two talented hurlers. Nola, who is projected to be a first-round draft choice next June, will be shooting for his 20th career victory Sunday night when he takes the mound against UCLA in a first-round CWS game.

"We are where we wanted to be - in Omaha," said Nola, who was in the stands when his brother Austin helped the Tigers win the national title in 2009. "It was unbelievable here in 2009. That was a great experience for me.

"I can only imagine what it will be like on the field. I know it's a pitchers' park. But, I still have to go out and make the pitches. I have to keep the ball down."

Nola will be matched up against UCLA's Adam Plutko this weekend. However, that task will be no more difficult than in the super-regional when Nola's mound opponent from Oklahoma was Jonathan Gray, the No. 3 selection in the major league baseball draft.

Gray, who signed with the Colorado Rockies earlier this week, held the Tigers scoreless for seven innings. Nola was a little better with a complete-game, two-hit shutout. LSU scored twice in the eighth off Gray for a 2-0 victory.

"That game boosted my confidence," Nola said. "I knew it was going to be a pitchers' duel. The biggest thing is I have to worry about my job."

Cotton must do his job or the Tigers may find themselves with a loss. Cotton, who came to LSU as a walk-on from Shreveport (La.) Byrd High School, has made a steady progression in the bullpen - from lefthanded specialist to set-up guy to closer.

"I go out there and I am just trying to get them three-up and three-down," Cotton said. "This year I got the role as closer. It's awesome to hold (saves) record at LSU.

"I just try to get ahead of the hitters by throwing strikes. Batters in the ninth inning are more antsy. I mix speeds trying to keep them off balance. I'll let them make the outs. In the last game against Oklahoma, I got six outs and there were no strikeouts. I let the hitters get themselves out."

Cotton has a fast ball which usually hits the mid-80s on the radar gun. Still, Cotton was drafted last week in the 13th round by the Houston Astros.

"What Cotton has done doesn't surprise me," Dunn said. "He has the mindset you need to have as a pitcher. Your desire to get the hitter out has to be greater than his to get a hit off you. Chris is not afraid to pitch to contact. He has had a phenomenal year for us. I am glad he is on our team."

Both Cotton and Nola are huge fans of each other. Each pitcher understands why the other one has success against opposing batters.

"Aaron is able to do the same thing as me," Cotton said. "He just has a little more velocity. Aaron throws strikes and keeps throwing strikes. If Aaron does have that one bad inning, he can bounce back and put it behind him."

Nola is amazed by what Cotton has done throughout his four-year LSU career.

"Chris is such a competitor," Nola said. "I have never seen somebody throw so many strikes and get so many swing-and-misses. He has great composure and confidence on the mound."

There is one difference in the makeup of the two ultra-successful pitchers. Nola rarely shows emotion, while Cotton enters the game on an all-out sprint from the bullpen.

"The most emotional I have ever been was after the super-regional game," Nola said. "I just don't show it. That is how I've been my whole life. I don't show much emotion after a big strikeout because I have to stay focused as much as I can."

Cotton decided upon the sprint when it was determined that he was going to be LSU's full-time closer this season.

"The sprint (from the bullpen) started this year," Cotton said. "I got the closing job, so I wanted to do something different. Sprinting to the mound gives me a jolt of energy. Then, I felt loose when I got to the mound."

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