The son of a coach, Paul Mainieri has been around baseball all of his life.
So, when it came down to the final game of the 2009 season the Tiger skipper did what he had always done – he pulled out his pen and paper and began coaching.
First and foremost, there was a lineup change.
Longhorns head coach Auggie Garrido had been picking his spots throughout the middle of the Tiger order, often working around the lethal Blake Dean.
This was made easy given Micah Gibbs and Mikie Mahtook’s combined woes at the plate behind the junior – seeing the Tigers three through five hole hitters go 2-for-11 in Tuesday night’s game two loss.
Quick with a solution, Mainieri called on two rather different candidates: Sean Ochinko and Jared Mitchell.
Ochinko, who had been benched for Leon Landry the night prior, was a red-hot 4-of-5 – highlighted by a two-run double that buried the Longhorns in the sixth.
“Coach came up to me at lunch and told me that he was putting me in the clean up spot,” he said. “I told him that I was not going to let him down.”
Mitchell – who, like Ochinko, was playing in his final game before heading to the majors, was no slouch himself – notching three RBI en route to earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
The runs, which came by way of a home run in the opening frame, were the sparks that ignited the eventual championship fire.
“Mitchell’s home run got the wheels going,” Ochinko said. “We were talking about jumping out early, and that got us going.”
For Mitchell, who had seen his struggles from the plate during the season, the win – and MVP - could not have been anymore storybook.
“If there is a better way, write the story for me,” said the New Iberia native with a smile.
For Mainieri, in his first championship, it seemed just another day at the office. To think, it was not as if the skipper had not made some big moves on the line up card already this season.
Well into an impressive run through the Southeastern Conference season, Mainieri pulled what he tabbed as “the biggest coaching gamble of his 27-year career.”
The headman moved freshman Austin Nola into the lineup for defense, moving All-American DJ LeMahieu to second base in a series of shifts that ended in Landry taking a spot on the bench.
When double plays became the norm across the middle infield, the Tiger skipper’s move was warranted as one of his bests.
“That switch made us good enough to win a National Championship,” Landry said, who was on the short end of the substitution stick. “We took to this year as a unit, and coach found out the one way for it all to work.”
Finding a way to win, just as his father had for so many years at the Junior College level, seems to be in the Mainieri DNA.
“The Mainieri family has gone 45 years without a championship.”
On Wednesday, thankfully, that drought ended.
And, it ended because Mainieri – on the biggest stage – was not afraid to pull out his pen and paper and coach.