HOOVER, Ala. — It's the first time he can recall needing a bag of ice after a game.
But you can't blame Chris Cotton for being a little sore after helping LSU clinch the SEC Tournament Championship. He didn't allow a base runner in 2 2/3 innings of work Sunday, needing 21 pitches — 18 strikes — to get the job done.
In fact, he didn't allow a single base runner the entire tournament. He faced 17 batters in four appearances, sending each one back to the dugout with nothing to show for their at-bat.
"We can talk all day about that aspect of him," said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "He does it so efficiently that it allowed us to use him three days in a row. But even after the third day, he's still pretty tired."
That kind of dominance is what led Cotton to being named the SEC Tournament MVP. His final line for the week — 5 2/3 innings pitched, zero hits, zero walks, zero runs, and the zeroes continue on from there.
The only crooked numbers — five strikeouts, three saves and one win.
"It's just like any other day during the whole season," Cotton said. "I just sprint out there. I just get my mind right and prepare to throw strikes. That's what it is. Throw strikes, and keep the ball down. Obviously my defense did the rest for me."
Go back four years and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely candidate for MVP. He walked on to the team in 2010 without much break in his breaking ball and little velocity in his fastball.
He only tossed 22 innings that season, with his most important appearance coming in a NCAA Regional where Mainieri only needed him to throw a strike to a sacrifice bunter.
"He's an amazing story," Mainieri said. "He made the team because I liked the way he threw strikes. He didn't have a great arm. He didn't have a great breaking ball or a great changeup. He wasn't overpowering, but he threw the ball over the plate."
He had a similar role in 2011 before really making a name for himself last year. Cotton flourished as a set-up man, making 38 appearances in 2012, with a 1.59 ERA and a flawless 7-0 record.
That propelled him into the 2013 season, which he entered with a hybrid role. Essentially whatever LSU might need him to do, he'd do. If he had to start a Sunday game, he could do that. If he had to work an eighth inning, he could do that. If he had to close, he could do that.
And that final role is what stuck.
Cotton earned 12 saves in 29 appearances during the regular season. He surrendered just 6 earned runs in 33 1/3 innings. He struck out 36 batters and walked only two.
That success is what made him such a dependable option for LSU in the SEC Tournament.
"Four years ago, I didn't expect to be here," Cotton said. "It's been a long journey. Playing for LSU has been a dream."
And Cotton surely isn't finished. LSU heads into a NCAA Regional in just four days, and it's likely he'll need to sprint out from the bullpen again. He does need just one more save to tie the single-season record, which Matty Ott holds with 16.
Whether or not Cotton matches or exceeds that mark, he will have left his own mark on the 2013 Tigers.
"He's an amazing guy, and hasn't received enough credit for what's happening this season," Mainieri said. "I just love the kid to death…I'm going to cry like a baby when that kid finishes."
Cotton named SEC Tournament MVP
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