Last year, the Nicholls State baseball was two wins away from its first primary goal – the Southland Conference Championship.
This year, they are ready to try and “win the son of a gun.”
Fresh off a deep run in the Southland Conference Tournament, the Colonels return a strong senior core in the 2012 season.
Those returnees, combined with highly touted newcomers sprinkled into the mix have Nicholls coach Seth Thibodeaux and his players believing this just may be the year the team gets over the hump and makes the NCAA Tournament.
“We feel like this year’s the year,” Nicholls senior pitcher Seth Webster said. “We believe this year’s the year for us. If we play hard all year, if we play our game and play like a team, we feel like we’ve got a shot to do some special things this year.”
“Of course, our biggest goal is to make it to Omaha and be in the College World Series,” Thibodeaux added. “But to get there, we’ve got to get over that hump and win the Southland Conference Championship. That’s a huge goal of ours. That’s a big thing we’re pushing for this year.”
The biggest reason for the Colonels’ optimism on the field is on the mound where Seth Webster’s masterful right arm returns for his final season at Nicholls.
After missing two seasons with a litany of injuries, Webster returned in 2011 and quickly established himself as one of the best pitchers in both the conference and also the country.
Webster finished the season with a 7-3 record and an anemic 2.30 ERA in close to 110 innings. The lanky righty also tossed seven complete games. He got better as the season progressed, working nine innings in eight of his final 10 starts.
That season was enough to earn the pitcher the accolade of being the 2012 Southland Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Thibodeaux said having a Webster back is a huge jolt to the pitching staff and the entire team’s psyche.
“Our players know it and they realize how special a player he is,” Thibodeaux said. “There were two or three times last year when Seth Webster threw a complete game and didn’t break the 100 pitch mark. That’s the type of pitcher he is. We’d look at our watch on Friday night and we’d be an hour and 45 minutes in and it’d already be the ninth inning. He’s just that kind of pitcher.”
Webster said he’s thankful for all of the praise and respect he receives from his coaches and teammates.
He added he will use that inspiration to try and have an even stronger season in 2012.
“I knew I’d probably be the preseason pick and it’s an honor, but at the same time, that doesn’t really do anything for me,” Webster said. “I want to be the end of the season pitcher of the year. … That’s my goal.”
With Webster controlling the mound on Friday, the Colonels quietly return their entire weekend staff.
Junior lefty Patrick Shreve joins senior lefty Mike Wisecarver as the team’s late weekend hurlers.
Shreve missed the opening months of the season and made just 11 appearances in 2011. He made each outing count, posting a 4-2 record with a 2.56 ERA with two complete games.
“He’s got the ability to do a lot of the things Seth is doing,” Thibodeaux said.
A Kenner native, Wisecarver also had a solid year in 2011, posting a 4-6 record with a 4.83 ERA in 14 starts.
Thibodeaux said having the entire trio back, combined with the return of senior closers Donnie White and Brad Delatte and a slew of newcomers, should make the team’s pitching more than capable.
“We have the weekend guys. We have the senior closers on the back-end. We have mid-week starters,” Thibodeaux said. “We have what we thought we had when we were recruiting. We just have to stay healthy and have to stay humble.”
“There’s a lot of older guys on our staff who have been here and who have been through the battles,” Delatte agreed. “They can kind of take our younger guys and show them how things work over here. That’s a big plus.”
With the Colonels’ arms likely getting outs easily inside Nicholls’ large, spacey ballpark, the burden will likely fall on the team’s bats.
The Colonels averaged just more than five runs per game a year ago, but were a streaky offensive team.
Nicholls returns thumping bats like Jeremy Hill and Blake Bergeron – a duo that combined for more than 80 RBI last year.
Those guys added with local product Philip Lyons, Matt Richard, Michael LeGrange and Mike Barba – four players who the coach said can breakout this year – give the team something it hasn’t had in recent years: balance.
“We have balance in our lineup for the first time since I’ve been here,” Thibodeaux said. “We’re able to do things throughout the lineup. Our 6-hole hitter maybe was our 3-hole hitter a couple of years ago. We have options.”
“Through most lineups, you don’t find the balance we have,” Bergeron said. “We have lots of speed and we have a lot of guys who are more your traditional sluggers. It’s a great luxury to have.”
One luxury Nicholls hasn’t quite gotten is respect.
Despite making it to the Southland semifinals last season and returning the majority of their team, the Colonels have been picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the Southland Conference’s preseason polls.
Those metrics don’t make sense to the team’s players who say they will use their preseason prognostication as fuel.
“It’s kind of hard for us to understand,” Webster said.
“We believe we’re better than that,” Delatte added. “That’s all that matters.”
Thibodeaux agrees – strongly.
He added his thoughts on the team’s 11th-place prediction, saying preseason polls are without merit.
He added that he has faith 2012 will be a strong season for Nicholls no matter what anyone else thinks.
“We’re not the 11th team in this league, we’re much better than that,” Thibodeaux said. “I’m not sure if anyone’s preseason predictions have ever held true. You always see guys that are picked to do something who never do it. Nothing anyone can ever say or do will change how we do things. No one can ever tell my players that they can’t do something and no one can ever tell me that I can’t do something.
“I could care less other than the fact that it’s extremely motivating when someone disrespects you and it’s our job to correct that and fix it. And the only way for us to do that is to win the son of a gun. It’s obvious. So we’ve got some things we need to take care of.”
Nicholls State senior pitcher Seth Webster fires a pitch during
a game this past season.