Mississippi State head coach John Cohen participated with the rest of the league’s coaches on a teleconference Monday to preview this year’s SEC Tournament.
Here is a transcript of Cohen’s time on the call.
Cohen: “Our kids are excited after a big weekend. We played a very good Arkansas team. I’ve said many times, I think there’s about an inch difference between us and Arkansas from the so called bottom of this league to the top. It’s pretty remarkable how talented this league is.
“Our kids were able to celebrate a little bit and have a good time on Saturday night. I think every one of them realizes we have a very serious challenge in front of us. All of us who are going to this tournament have aspirations of going to Omaha, Nebraska. The SEC Tournament is just a wonderful opportunity for us to prepare for hopefully a regional and maybe, hopefully even super regional play.
“We have a lot of work to do and we look forward to playing in Hoover. It’s an exciting time for our kids. Obviously we have a lot of goals, just like everybody else does, in front of them.”
Having just played Arkansas, do you have any empathy for what Dave Van Horn went through and what do you think about their season?
Cohen: “First of all, Dave Van Horn doesn’t need any advice from John Cohen. He’s one of the best coaches in the country. I know Tony Vitello really well and Dave Jorn on their staff. They do a great job. The job they did a year ago was just masterful and were on their way to having a chance to win a national championship in Omaha.
“You can just tell that they’re a very talented group that was just off by an inch. Quite frankly, if they were in many other leagues in America they’re probably .500 or above and probably in the NCAA Tournament. But if you’re an inch off in the Southeastern Conference you’re going to get punch in the mouth a lot.
“They aren’t that fall away from being a really good club. You can say that about several other clubs in our league as well. But Dave Van Horn is a great coach and this is a little blip on their radar because he will make them great real quick, there’s no question about that.”
What was the key for you guys going worst to first?
Cohen: “I’ve said this many times, there’s three components. No. 1, the kids coming back to your program have to go off in the summer and they’ve got to get better. That’s what happened for us.
“The kids who are hurt, and I’ll use Reid Humphreys as an example. Reid Humphreys a year ago was coming off arm surgery that he’d had in high school and had trouble getting the ball from the outfield to the cutoff man. He’s closing out games for us now touching 95-96 as well as swinging a pretty good bat and playing a solid left field for us. Guys who are hurt have to rehab and get better.
“The third thing is you’ve got to have a group of kids in your signing class that can come in and contribute immediately. If you look at the first three guys in our lineup – Jake Mangum, Jack Kruger and certainly Nate Lowe – those are all three guys who have just had great first years. That’s not common in the Southeastern Conference.”
What kind of impact has Boomer White had for Texas A&M?
Cohen: “I can tell you this, when they were in Starkville they dominated us. I can’t imagine a team playing better than they played against us. Boomer was Brooks Robinson defensively at third base and at the plate he was stinking I don’t even know – Don Mattingly or something. He was just fabulous against us and quite frankly, he’s been fabulous the whole year.
“I just love the way that kid plays. He’s just a grinder. He’s old school and hits the ball hard every time he steps to the plate or he’s working you for a walk. He’s just a great college baseball player and boy, you’ve got to have guys like that to have a great season. Certainly, Texas A&M has had a great year.”
Can you recall another high profile player from a program like TCU went over to another program like Boomer White did?
Cohen: Yeah, I know there’s several examples of that. None just come to my mind and I’m not as good with names as I should be. But I think there’s a real advantage to that. We have three players in our program who started off at a Division I institution then went to junior college and obviously came to our place. I think when kids have differing experiences it makes them more mature and understand the nature of college baseball.
“I’m sure that Boomer gained from all of his different experiences in college baseball and is part of his success.”