MSU Baseball- Don't Close That Coffin Yet!


One thing University of Mississippi fans liked to throw around in MSU fan’s face during the Polk II era and the first 2-3 years of the John Cohen era was the notion that MSU was a “dead program”.  To play devil’s advocate- I can understand why.  We hired a “legend” over 10 years ago instead of a progressive coach and we let our once crown jewel of the SEC stadium get run down while crowds dwindled.  And nationally, we were losing respect.  Usually when the national experts would talk about MSU baseball, it was often times about how few prospects were on the roster or something else degrading.

That was part of the challenge that John Cohen took on four years ago when he took over.  It’s one thing to say that you have to add talent- but there are some things that are deeper than that- things that must be done in order to get the talent that you need to compete for championships.  No matter how good the bar-b-que is, no one wants to play for a loser.  We had to get confidence back from the players and the fans, we had to makeover our image as a program that simply has a good history, and we had to change the overall attitude of our program.  To me, that is the legacy of this team.  This is the team that I have been waiting for, for four years that I feel put us back on the map, and gives us a real opportunity to move our baseball program even further forward.  And while we didn’t make it to Omaha or even a Super Regional like last year’s team,  I think this team accomplished us getting our swagger back.

And that may be odd to say because last year’s team went further in the postseason- and I personally thought that was the team that put us back.  But the reality was, a lot of fans and experts thought that last year was a fluke.  And I can’t blame them for that totally- MSU fans saw Croom’s 2007 season only to go back to the bottom of the SEC the next year.  We had a lot of seniors and for many, the jury was still out.

As a whole, the season was obviously a success.  40 wins.  A SEC Tournament Championship which was the climax of the season.  A winning SEC regular season record after starting the year 5-10.  Going to a regional for the second year in a row for the first time since 2006-2007.  And I think what is selling everybody is the fact that this team did all of this while being extremely injured and also while being extremely inexperienced. And I would be remiss to not mention the outstanding individual efforts of Chris Stratton- MSU’s first 1st round pick since Ed Easley in the 2007 supplemental first round, Adam Frazier making Team USA- the first time a MSU player has done that since 1998.  And then Johnathan Holder making the freshman All-America team and being the most lights our closer we have had since Aaron Weatherford.  And then there is Luis Pollorena being Luis Pollorena.

There was good and bad.  We led the SEC in pitching.  We were downright filthy.  Stratton, Holder, and then Kendall Graveman defeated some of the top teams in the SEC such as LSU and Florida on the road, and then we had freshmen emerge such as Brandon Woodruff, Jacob Lindgren, Ross Mitchell, and even beyond that pitchers such as Trevor Fitts and Will Cox that didn’t pitch very much but showed tremendous promise.  Caleb Reed was solid, and Luis Pollorena gave our team energy.  Nick Routt became a very solid relief pitcher, and Ben Bracewell was outstanding when he was healthy.  Defensively, I thought we improved as the year went along, and there were times we made some spectacular plays.  I’m not sure why people tried to run on any of our outfielders, because it seemed like we were gunning people out every game.

The bad was the hitting.  We were near the bottom in the SEC.  There were lots of reasons for that- injuries, inexperience, and some players not stepping up for whatever reason.  One thing I do know- John Cohen is not happy about it.  The other thing I know is John Cohen is a very good hitting coach.  I can’t imagine him standing for a season like we just had for very long.   In that same vein, we also had very little power.  Yes, some of that was the enormous dimensions of Dudy-Noble, but to hit with power, you have to be a good hitter to start with, and we were not very good at hitting to start with.  We also were not a team with a ton of success stealing bases.  Again, a lot of that was because of injuries.  Some of that was because of lack of execution- see the numerous botched hit and runs early in the year.  And what that caused was us to be very limited in what we could do offensively in terms of pressure.  Basically, it reduced us to resort to bunting a lot because that was what we could do, as well get hit by pitches.  Obviously, that’s not very ideal.

Going forward, I think our pitching will still be very strong.  I’m hesitant to say that we will be as good as we were this year mainly because our pitching was THAT good.  That said, I still think we can and will be a top four pitching staff in the SEC.  I think defensively, we should be better.  Being healthy will help out a lot with that, as well as having experience.  I’d like to be top half of the SEC in that category.

The hitting is what everyone wants to talk about.  Some have suggested not bunting at all because of some statistics.  Personally, I don’t think that’s the way to go, although I do think we should and will bunt less.  I agree with Cohen when he says the issue with our hitters is recognizing which pitches to hit.  I think that experience will help with that more than anything- and we have that now.  With better hitting comes power.  Better hitting is going to allow us to do more things to put pressure on the defense- such as hit and runs, which means, in turn, bunting less because we have other things that we can do.  And that will also actually make us a better bunting team because the opponents will have more things to defend and worry about.  So, I think we could see a drastically improved hitting team next year.  I think middle of the SEC is pretty realistic considering where we are starting from, but I wouldn’t be shocked at all if we are in the top half of the SEC.

No doubt, we accomplished a lot this year.  But there are some things left on the table.  I think hosting a regional and shooting for Omaha are very realistic goals for next year’s team- as well as having winning the SEC as a goal.  Personally, I’d like us to win the Governor’s Cup next year as well since I am from Jackson.  Ultimately, the goal is to win the National Championship- and I think that is realistic for any team in the SEC because of the strength of the conference.

The SEC tournament run this year was awesome.  Especially for me personally because I actually went to the SEC Tournament for the first time in my life, which was pretty cool.  And of course, winning it was special for our program.  I’ll never forget the Dawg Walk we had for the baseball team- how many baseball program’s have a Dawg Walk like they do for football.  There were 12,000 fans at that game, and I would estimate about 95% of them were MSU fans.  The championship game was a very typical win for us this year- outstanding pitching and scoring three runs by capitalizing on the other teams mistakes and making them pay for it.  Some other things that stood out to me at the SEC Tournament were hearing what fans of other schools had to say about our team- things like “they’re fun to watch”, “they play hard”, and “I wish we had some of their players on our team”.  All of a sudden, the experts were talking about MSU as being “the team you don’t want to play.”  And of course, my favorite memory will always be standing by the dugout and Luis Pollorena jumping up and down with the SEC Tournament trophy and bringing it around so fans could see and touch it- including me.  And then the players talking to the fans and thanking us for supporting them.  So, I’m going to take this time to thank them for all the hard work that they did and for what they accomplished this year and encourage them to accomplish more next year.