LSU reliever Gavin Guidry pitches during the SEC tournament against Texas A&M at the Hoover Met in Hoover, Ala., on May 26. Photo by Vasha Hunt.

Gavin Guidry bobbed his head as he circled the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning against Kentucky on Sunday.

He had just struck out Emilien Pitre swinging. He took in the crowd before inducing Hunter Gilliam to ground out, sending LSU to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, where it will face Tennessee at 6 p.m. Saturday.

“I love noise,” Guidry said. “A lot of people, they try to zone that stuff out, but I fully embrace it whenever everybody's standing up with two strikes in the ninth inning with two outs. There's times where I'll just kind of sit there, shake my head and say, ‘Yeah, let's get it going.’

"It's gonna be really fun in front of 20,000 people.”

Guidry has a swagger to him on the mound. He believes he will get anybody he faces out — no matter the circumstance. It’s a confidence he can back up, a confidence that he said he has only because his teammates support him.

But it’s much more than that, and to understand Guidry’s confidence, you have to understand his resilience. Behind the curtain of a dogged closer is a kid who wanted everyone else around him to feel the glory of competing, too.

“When we got a lead, some guys didn’t want to give up their at-bats,” said Barbe High School baseball coach Glenn Cecchini, who coached Guidry before he came to LSU. “He’d say, ‘Hey man, let this guy go in … let him hit for me.' Most kids are worried about their stats, but he epitomized what we wanted our players to be.”

Guidry as a teammate

In junior high, Guidry once jumped behind a kid in line to play the basketball game “knockout.”

The objective of the game is to make a basket before the person behind you in line makes it, because if that person beats you to it, you’re out. Eventually, the battle narrows to two people.

But one kid in Guidry’s class hadn’t been making his shots and was eliminated from the game multiple times. Guidry knew that if he purposely missed his shot behind him, there was a chance he could help him win.

“He made sure the kid won two or three games in a row,” said Guidry’s dad, Gary Guidry. “The teacher sent us this video, so he's that type of kid as well.”

LSU coach Jay Johnson saw Guidry as a two-way player during his first recruiting visit with him, and he laid out a plan to make that possible.

“When he was talking to major-league guys, they either wanted to shortstop Gavin or to pitch, and Gavin really didn't necessarily want to be pigeon-holed yet,” said Guidry’s mom, Stefani. “He understands that one day there'll be a decision and he’ll have to decide what's best for his future, but being young, he wanted both of those avenues open.”

But once fall arrived and the roster became more clear, Johnson had Guidry focus strictly on being an infielder in the fall.

When potential starting right-hander Grant Taylor went down with a torn UCL one week before the regular season started, it necessitated another course correction. Guidry's selflessness again shined through.

He started training to pitch in February, and he stepped on the mound for the first time March 3 against Butler. He worked one inning against Tennessee on April 1, but his first high-leverage situation came at South Carolina on April 7, when he entered a 7-7 game in the eighth.

Cade Beloso's run-scoring single in the ninth gave the Tigers an 8-7 win as Guidry pitched 1⅔ scoreless innings.

“I thought, ‘Thank God,’ ” Cecchini said. “I’m glad he’s pitching because when he came home for the holidays, he said, ‘They’ve got 10 guys who can throw 95-100,’ and I said, ‘But they don’t have guys like you.’ ”

Knowing how to win

That guy, Cecchini said, is the undefeated pitcher for the MaxPreps No. 1 high school baseball program in the country during the 2021 season for Barbe.

That season was one for the books for more than one reason. Southwest Louisiana had been ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes, and as a result, school didn’t start until after Thanksgiving.

Guidry’s team practiced in a variety of places — from little league fields to local travel baseball facilities.

“We had a no-complain zone and we were 39-2,” Cecchini said. “It just goes to show you, the right attitude is gratitude. He’s a team uniter, and we always say to be the change instead of trying to change the world. Instead of telling everybody, he lives it.”

That’s what he did, helping his team to a state title while facing his own battle that came up late in the playoffs. He’d broken his throwing hand while playing shortstop during the quarterfinal game against Haughton, but he came back the next week to pitch in the state championship against West Monroe.

“He couldn’t grip the ball, so he threw a lot of fastballs in off the plate and struck out 11 guys,” Cecchini said.

It didn’t matter to Guidry whether the doctor said he couldn’t compete. He wasn’t going to listen.

But he did listen when Johnson called upon him to be a pitcher for LSU. So far, it’s working out.

“Our goal from Day One was to go win a national championship,” Guidry said. “The roles may not be the same, but this is how I imagined it coming in: playing really good in the postseason, then rolling into Omaha hot and ready to go compete for a national championship.”

Email Leah Vann at LVann@TheAdvocate.com or follow her on Twitter, @LVann_sports.