Cohen’s Postseason Button


Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Two games into the SEC Tournament and the Bulldogs are 2-0. Tuesday night’s result wasn’t that shocking, but the beatdown that we put on South Carolina was jaw dropping. It has led many to ask where all this was during the regular season? True, we finished behind Ole Miss by just a single game in the SEC for the SEC West Title, but the number of head scratching losses to bad nonconference teams and a few conference opponents led many to believe that this Bulldog team wasn’t dangerous enough offensively to make noise in Hoover. We could obviously still lose the next two games and be out of the tournament before the semifinals, but the team has already done more than what a lot thought it could do. That leads me to just one conclusion.

John Cohen has a magic postseason button.

This could mark the fourth straight year that Mississippi State will have had a mixed result regular season followed up by a strong performance in the post season.

In 2011, Mississippi State had made improvements from their first two years under John Cohen. We finished 14-16 in SEC play and 34-21 in the regular season. There were a few good wins, but it was pretty clear that the Bulldogs hadn’t done enough to get off the 3 seed line in the regular season. When they reached Hoover and proceeded to go two and done, there was a little doubt that they would make the tournament (and I do mean little). And this is when Cohen found his postseason button. The Bulldogs were selected to go to the Atlanta regional. They faced a Southern Miss team that was anxious to beat the Bulldogs. What happened was three straight convincing wins and a berth in the Super Regionals against #2 National Seed Florida. Mississippi State got blown out 11-1 in Game 1, but used a walk off homerun by Nick Vickerson in Game 2 to surprise everyone. They followed that performance by getting a lead in the seventh inning of Game 3 and were nine outs away from Omaha before Florida rallied to win it. While it was disappointing to lose, it was a lot more than anyone thought that unit was capable of.

The strong finish to 2011 brought raised expectations to Starkville in 2012. The regular season was a struggle for the Bulldogs. The nonconference slate went about as expected with the exception of two losses to Southeastern Louisiana. But the conference schedule got off to a rough start. The Bulldogs got off to a 5-10 start in SEC play, and the pitching staff looked very vulnerable outside of Chris Stratton. They managed to rally and finish the SEC season 10-5, but most wondered just what damage could a team do that only had one reliable pitcher. That’s when Cohen hit the postseason button. The Bulldogs entered the SEC Tournament as the 7 seed with the hopes of winning a game or two and preparing for the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs simply blitzkrieged Hoover losing once to Kentucky in the third round, and finished off the Tournament with a 3-0 victory over Vanderbilt. The only drawback was the team appeared tired and the pitching staff overworked in the Tallahassee Regional. They would lose twice to Samford in the Regional and be done in three games. Despite that, the impressive performance showed what the Bulldogs were capable of and had some thinking that 2013 might lead the Bulldogs to Omaha.

2013 brought preseason rankings for the Diamond Dawgs, and in nonconference play, they lived up to the billing. They won their first 17 nonconference games, and there was some concern when the Bulldogs lost the last two games before SEC play started to Central Arkansas, but nothing that made people worry too much. The worrying started once the first three series for the Bulldogs were done in SEC play. The Bulldogs looked overmatched in their first 9 SEC games and had a disappointing 3-6 record. The Bulldogs would rally to close the season 16-14, going 13-8 in the last 7 series of the season. No one was certain where the Bulldogs would finish the postseason. They lacked dominant starting pitching, and outside of Frazier, Renfroe, and Detz, the Bulldogs were extremely inconsistent offensively. Cohen knew it was time to hit the postseason button. The Bulldogs won their first three SEC Tournament Games before being ousted in the Semifinals against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs did enough to earn a bid to host a regional, but most pundits thought the Bulldogs ceiling was reaching the Super Regionals. The Bulldogs then won the Starkville regional after another questionable loss to Central Arkansas. They then headed to Charlottesville, Virginia where they ran rough shod over the #6 National Seed Virginia Cavaliers, despite some last inning drama. Omaha brought many predictions of two and done for the Bulldogs, but the postseason button would have none of it. In Game 1 of the CWS, the Bulldogs used an 8th inning rally to take a lead into the 9th inning, and a towering flyball to right field off the bat of Oregon State’s Danny Hayes would shave a year off of the lives of many Bulldogs’ fans, but they secured the victory. Game 2 brought another 8th inning rally and more 9th inning drama against Indiana, but the Bulldogs secured the victory. The Bulldogs then coasted rather easily into the Finals riding the coattails of a Hunter Renfroe 3 run HR. The post season button finally ran out of magic in the National Championship.

That brings us to this season. The Bulldogs had every publication ranking them in the top 10 in the preseason. Expectations were as high as they have ever been. Many were talking of a return trip to Omaha to get what we didn’t last year. What followed was a series of losses to teams in the nonconference portion of the schedule that no one could figure out. The Bulldogs seemed to make things right by going 6-3 in the first 9 games of conference play. The Bulldogs followed that up by going 4-8 the next 12, with three of those wins coming against lowly Georgia. We rebounded yet again, and the Bulldogs closed out the season 7-2 and finished with their most SEC wins since 1997. Despite the strong finish, the lack of consistent offensive firepower had many thinking the Bulldogs were not ready for this tournament. Based off of the first two games, I’d say Cohen has pressed his postseason button.

I don’t know if the postseason success will continue, but the one thing we have learned is that Cohen knows how to motivate his team in the postseason. During the telecast of Game 3 against Tennessee on Mother’s Day, Paul Byrd said that John Cohen does everything in the regular season to prepare for the postseason after Cohen inexplicably pulled Gavin Collins early in the game. I think he was right. There are times it makes us as fans go nuts, but Cohen knows that the ultimate prize is what happens around Memorial Day and beyond. He wants to win then more than any other. And if all else fails, he always has his button.