UL pitcher Connor Cooke is an early favorite to be the closer during his sophomore season.

In 2019, a program known for its pitching consistency struggled through a poor season in just about every category on the mound.

The numbers were alarming.

UL’s 2019 pitching staff had a combined 5.07 ERA. In 530⅔ innings, the staff allowed 525 hits, walked 266 and struck out 470.

By comparison, the 2018 team ERA was 4.49, the 2017 ERA was 3.33 and the 2016 ERA was 3.25.

If you listen to coach Matt Deggs, however, last year’s pitching slump will quickly be considered an aberration.

“We’re very balanced and the middle of our balance is our pitching staff,” Deggs said. “We’re deep in the middle and in the back.

“I think our strength has a chance to be in the bullpen where we can shorten some games. This is a luxury.”

Deggs is already wishing the 2014 UL squad — a 58-10 team that fell one win shy of the College World Series — could have borrowed a few arms from this year’s staff.

“I was telling the boys the other day, if the 2014 team had two to three guys off of this staff — and you could also almost close your eyes and just say, I’ll take ‘him, him and him,’ you might be talking about the greatest team of all time,” Deggs said.

“It was 58 wins … add five to it. That’s 63; nobody’s done that. That’s how impressed I am with this team and this pitching staff and the way it was put together.”

Before that bullpen can come into play a staff needs strong starting pitching, which has been difficult to find over the past two seasons.

A trio of junior college newcomers figure to be top contenders to fill those spots in 6-foot-8 right-hander Carter Robinson, 6-5 right-hander Conor Angel and 6-4 right-hander Jeff Wilson.

Deggs describes Robinson as having a “four-pitch mix — any place, anywhere, anytime.”

Angel “reminds me a lot of (Austin) Robichaux — a little heavier than Austin was but still kind of thin — with a low three-quarter delivery. He can sink it, he can slide it and he’s athletic as well.”

Wilson brings three pitches — “he can sink it, he can slide it, he can pull it.”

Robinson and Angel are the favorites to be the Friday night starter.

“You need to have that thunder up top,” Deggs said.

Also potential options to be starters, once they’re both ruled healthy, are senior right-hander Jack Burk and junior southpaw Austin Perrin.

“Austin Perrin, another kid that threw huge innings last year,” he said. “He was up to 91-92 (mph) this fall.”

“I love Burk,” he said. “Burk has a history of pitching against my teams and he’s done well. He had a little surgery in the offseason. Pulled muscle. He should be ready. He’s another swing guy. You could look up and he’s carved his way into the rotation or you could look up and he’s ‘Everyday Eddie.’ There’s a lot of comfort with him.”

The staff also features a group of two-way performers. Sophomore right-hander Will Moriarty is another giant at 6-5, who pitches and can play first base.

“He’s a kid with a really good arsenal,” Deggs said. “He’s going to be 88-92 (mph). He can pound the zone with a plus-changeup and a good breaking ball.”

Center fielder Brennan Breaux, first baseman Colton Frank and first baseman Brandon Talley could all see time as pitchers as well. With only Perrin and Brock Batty as the only true left-handers on the staff, those three position players provide southpaw options when needed.

Another versatile arm is 6-6 senior right-hander Brandon Young, who started nine games last season but figures to be in the bullpen this spring.

“I think Brandon’s a utility guy,” Deggs said. “His stuff plays. I think he’ll pitch beyond here. I’d like to see him pitch an inning or two at a time and air it out and get after some guys for us, but he’s got enough swing-ability in him that you can start him.”

And then there’s Jacob Schultz, who was the most effective pitcher on last year’s staff at 2-3 with two saves and a 3.65 ERA, including seven starts in 23 overall appearances.

Candidates for the back of the bullpen include: Batty in left specialist situations after altering his arm angle in the offseason, 6-2 junior right-hander Luke Cronan, senior right-hander Caleb Armstrong, 6-5 junior right-hander Austin Bradford and possible closer in sophomore right-hander Connor Cooke.

This is likely Bradford’s last chance to prove he’s healthy enough to still pitch.

“He’s got a lot of moxie,” Deggs said. “He understands the game a little bit. He understands who he is and he understands what he’s working with even after being injured. A lot of guys won’t embrace that sometimes. He understands this is his last crack at it. He’s going to give us 100 percent of whatever he’s got.”

Athletes like Breaux, Frank and Cooke also set up Deggs for some crafty late-game maneuvering.

“Cooke can play,” Deggs said of the possibility of perhaps playing him in center field if needed for Breaux to pitch. “He just happens to be a really good arm on the back of the bullpen. Cooke might be the best athlete at this university.”

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