That attitude has helped the Tigers (43-16-1) roar to victory past opponents on an all-time school and current nation-best 20 game win streak.
Michael Hollander and Jared Bradford, together with their LSU teammates are counting on that attitude to make a successful joint venture in hosting NCAA Regional Tournament play Friday when the Tigers host Texas Southern at 1 p.m.
The Tigers, under second-year coach Paul Mainieri are coming off 16 consecutive conference wins and are currently ranked No. 5 in the Baseball America Poll, No. 2 in Collegiate Baseball, and 7th by USA Today/ESPN.
Hollander, a senior third baseman, is hitting at a current, career-high, .299 clip from his leadoff spot in the Tigers’ batting lineup. But, the former Mandeville resident, who starred at Jesuit in New Orleans isn’t ready to rest on present individual laurels or accomplishments of his team.
“It’s been an incredible experience going through this, especially for my last year” Hollander says. “We’ve sort of put everything together, pitching, swinging the bats, and defense. Everything has come together for us at the right time because of our team being really close knit. The most important thing really has been everyone knowing and playing their role.
“Playing so well together as a team is the biggest difference from last season. We weren’t able to put everything together and get going last year. But now we’ve put together all four of the things, hitting, pitching, defense, and base running which are important to winning.”
Hollander treasures his role in providing senior leadership while also enjoying the contributions of his younger teammates.
“I try to come out every day and play the game hard, making sure to give 100-percent and bring as much energy as possible,” Hollander said. “But we really have 25 leaders on this team, each who lead by example and contributes to our success. That makes it really great to be a part of a team like this.”
A member of the LSU last regional team in ’05, Hollander still remembers the painful experience of walking off the field after being eliminated by Rice.
“I was a freshman back then and didn’t really know what to expect playing in a regional series would be like,” Hollander said. “I wasn’t prepared for what playing SEC baseball was all about. It all made a big difference then.
“This being my senior year makes things all together different. The big difference is the way that our team is playing right now. We’re coming into the regional with a lot of momentum. We’re looking forward to playing hard, and as well as we have in the past 20 games and being successful.”
Bradford, a senior right-hander from Hueytown, Alabama has posted a 10-4 record for LSU but he also downplays his role in the Tigers’ success.
“It’s all been a part of playing baseball,” Bradford said. “We had a lot of new players this year, but everyone worked hard in the fall to get ready for the season. We all got to know each other well and didn’t have any problems getting along. Still, it took us a while to get used to each other and playing together. The confidence thing was never a question for us. But, each of us needed time to learn what our roles were and how we needed to contribute to the team’s success.”
“The changing of the roles has been huge,” Bradford adds. “Last year I started and closed, but started out this season starting, before going to a starting and closing role and finally closing. A lot of our younger pitchers and position players have stepped up to do whatever is needed of them. Everyone has proven themselves worthy and matured individually in their roles. It took time, but we’ve learned what to expect from each other and jelled together as a team at the right time.”
Bradford credits coach Mainieri with helping him learn how important the role of being a team player is.
“He sat me down and told me that I was his go-to-guy and that he wanted me in the game whether it was tied or we had a one-run lead at the end,” Bradford said. “Games are won or loss in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings. He told me that I was needed during those crucial innings and asked if I would mind being a closer. I told him that I’d do whatever was needed or whatever it took to help our team win.
“Being a starter, I didn’t know what closing would be like, but I’m glad that I did it. It helped our team out tremendously. It helped me understand a role that I didn’t know I’d be capable of doing until I did it. My teammates have been great about me closing out games. A lot of the other pitchers pick at me about being a vulture because I come in the ninth and get the win in a 1-1 game after they had pitched their hearts out. That’s been a running joke all year, but nobody minds because we’re winning. I can’t say enough about the great core of guys this is and how great we all get along. It’s been the biggest success story as to why we’re where we are now.”
For Bradford, giving senior leadership has been a growing and learning process throughout his career.
“You start learning and knowing what is expected of a senior even before you get to be one,” Bradford said. “You always look up to the seniors not only for having success in baseball, but also learning other things in life. Freshman will come in wanting to know certain things so they come to you for advice. It’s something you don’t really understand until you’ve lived it. For me it’s the same way with pitching and learning the multiple roles that I’ve had to face. I didn’t understand how I would handle the leadership role as a senior until my time came to do it. It’s been an awesome experience.
“In a strange, sense it’s been easy even though baseball is a battle because you are looked up to so much. Still it’s fun to take a freshman under your wing and explaining how things are done, what the coaches expect, and how things are done. Seeing them being molded is good for me and almost like being a coach myself. You help those young guys learn, but at the same time I’m learning from them. I see them pitch in a certain situation, and they come back and tell me why they did something. It gives me a different perspective that I didn’t think about. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this team, program, and be a senior leader.”
Hollander and Bradford are excited about returning to play before loyal fans at the Box with a win ensuring them to host a Super Regional.
“We have the greatest fans in the country, no doubt about it,” Hollander said. “It’s an honor to get the opportunity to play a few more games here. I wouldn’t want to end my career playing anyplace else. We’re glad to be back and hope to make it a special time for everyone by winning. That’s our game plan, so all I can say is go Tigers.”
Bradford whole heartily echoes the same sentiments concerning his Tiger team and hoping for more than just one more triumphant return to Alex Box Stadium.
“The fans deserve another weekend of baseball and even more and giving it to them is our plan,” Bradford said. “I don’t think that it could’ve happened any more perfectly. Especially with this year being the last year in the history of this great stadium. We want to go out with a bang in the right way. The fans here are unbelievable. They’ve taken care of me and made me one of their own. They’re what makes this program what it is.
“We play ball here, but it does help having these fans root us on win or lose. Having the chance to play here for two more weekends will be unbelievable for me. Especially, since I am not from here, and did not grow up watching the Tigers play and win. It’ll be awesome for me even though we won’t be wearing gold. (NCAA rules require the home team to wear white.) Having the fans wear gold will make it all the more fun.”
Hollander and Bradford Win Awards
Michael Hollander and Jared Bradford excel on and off the field and both were recently singled out for their work and dedication to the program.
Hollander received the Wally Pontiff Award given in memory of the former star from Metairie, who died suddenly at the end of the ’02 season.
“I would rather receive this than the Golden Spikes Award, Hollander said. “It’s such an honor because I’m so close to the Pontiff family. Growing up I always looked up to Wally and his younger brother Nick (Nicholas a current LSU player), who has always been a friend. I looked up to Wally like someone would to an older brother.
To receive this is a great honor because the Pontiff family is such a great family.
“Wally was a big influence on me,” Hollander added. “He was one of the big reasons why I went to Jesuit and came to LSU. Getting the opportunity to play third base this year like he did has been a huge honor”
Bradford received the Skip Bertman Award, which was named for the former coach and current LSU AD and is given to the player showing the most courage and leadership.
“It’s a great honor,’ Bradford said. “It’s something I never thought I would be able to have. I feel fortunate to be able to come here and play baseball for the past two years. I have done things individually that I thought I would never be able to do. But, as a team I think we have made a lot of improvements from last year.
“I think a lot of guys deserve the award because of the significance of courage and leadership. We have so many guys, who are really good and have those qualities within them. It’s an honor for me to be able to be a part of this program and the award is awesome. But, at the same time everybody else in some way has shown the same kind of courage.”
The architect of LSU baseball, Skip Bertman, was elated to see Hollander and Bradford honored but not quite as much as the current skipper.
“I think one of the hallmarks of this team is their unselfishness,” Mainieri said. “Mike Hollander gave up his shortstop job that he held for two and a half years, moving to third base for a freshman.
“Jared Bradford was an All-SEC starting pitcher as a junior, but went to the bullpen for his senior year. When your two senior starters are willing to sacrifice their personal roles for the good of the team no one else should complain about anything.”