By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea posted a bold Twitter message on Thursday: “1,000th tweet goes out to this chase for Omaha we’re working towards. I’m just gonna go ahead and say it, book your rooms for June 15-27!”
Omaha, of course, is home to the College World Series. MSU began its journey in that direction Friday with the start of fall baseball practices.
Rea’s attitude is one the entire team shares after two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
“That’s where we want to be. That’s our goal, that’s our focus,” head coach John Cohen said. “Of course on a daily basis your deal is getting better every single day.”
That’s where the fall work comes in. Stating lofty goals is one thing, but as Cohen noted, it takes a focus on the present to make that future a reality.
“I will remind somebody like Wes, you’re dadgum right that’s what we’re after, but your job today is to stay on this breaking ball a little bit better,” he said. “That’s what you do as a parent. Your daughter says, hey, I want to go to this school. Well hey, that’s great, but you’re going to need to make A’s, like, right now.”
Making the eight-team field in Omaha is going to require MSU to take a significant step forward. Cohen has turned the program around in his first four seasons, with the Bulldogs reaching a super regional in 2011 and winning the SEC Tournament last season.
Most of last year’s talent returns, including a pitching staff that’s deep despite the loss of first-round pick Chris Stratton. Cohen talked about several players making a “jump” this offseason, and he feels good about the leadership of guys like senior Kendall Graveman, who was 3-3 with a 2.77 ERA last season.
Graveman’s team won the Cape Cod League championship this past summer, and when asked by Cohen if he was getting a ring, Graveman replied, “Yeah, we’re getting rings, but it’s not the ring I want. I want the other one. I want the biggest ring you can possibly get in college baseball.”
Said Cohen, “And he means it. And I think we have a nucleus, a group of kids who really understand that concept and really want that badly.”
Counting on Renfroe
One very important area the Bulldogs will need to improve on over the fall is hitting. State hit just .228 as a team last season, but Cohen likes what he saw over the summer from guys like Matthew Britton and Hunter Renfroe.
Renfroe, a junior outfielder, led the Cal Ripken League in home runs (16) and RBIs (53). The trick now is to carry that over to the college level.
Last season, his first of full-time duty, Renfroe batted .252 with four homers and 25 RBIs. He stole seven bases and was a weapon on defense with 11 outfield assists