By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Hunter Renfroe sat at the press table Monday night with a beaten-up cowbell placed in front of him.
“It’s been through the ringer a few times,” he said, “but it means a lot.”
Pun intended or not, it was evident this cowbell had been rung countless times. Renfroe, Mississippi State’s junior right fielder, had been given it by one of the fans who reside behind the right field wall at Dudy Noble Field.
Renfroe likely played his final game at DNF on Monday, when No. 14 MSU defeated Central Arkansas, 6-1, to win the NCAA Starkville Regional. Up next is a trip to Charlottesville, Va., to battle No. 6 Virginia in the super regional round starting Saturday.
The Major League Draft begins Thursday, and Renfroe is expected to be taken in the first round. He hasn’t wanted to speculate on his future, but it’s hard to imagine him not going pro once the season is finished.
So this is it for Renfroe, who represents what MSU has become as a program. His first two years at State were pedestrian, and he was a .242 career hitter coming into this season, with just four home runs and 27 RBIs.
Coach John Cohen kept telling us how good Renfroe would be once it all came together, and this year it did. A legit five-tool player, he’s batting .352 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.
On Monday, he had three hits and two RBIs, giving the home fans plenty of reason to cheer him one last time.
As the Bulldogs move on to Virginia, it’s clear that Cohen has done as good a job as one could’ve hoped for. He took over a program that – at the risk of making a cheesy metaphor – was as beat up as Renfroe’s cowbell.
Cohen installed his philosophy and his process, and even when things weren’t going well, he kept telling everyone that success would come. He saw the growing potential of this team as top-notch recruits showed up and began developing their skills under his watch.
Under Cohen, MSU has made the NCAA tournament three consecutive seasons, hosted a regional for the first time in 10 years, and is headed to its second super regional in three years. And there was that SEC Tournament title last season.
The next item to check off is a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. That can be done this weekend with two wins at Virginia.
Won’t be easy, but nothing about this process has been. Maybe State won’t get to Omaha this year, but with the trajectory in which this program is moving, it almost seems as inevitable as Renfroe’s breakout season.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.