By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – This fall has a different feel to it for Mississippi State’s baseball team.
The Bulldogs, who are in the midst of their regular autumn work, are becoming the sort of team John Cohen envisioned when he took over as head coach in the summer of 2008.
There is a sense of starting over, as seven starting position players were lost off last year’s team, but Cohen has a bevy of young talent from which he expects much.
“In terms of sheer talent, we have upgraded talent and skill,” he said Tuesday. “But experience is hard to make up for in the short term. That’ll be a challenge for us.”
Among the returnees are outfielders Brent Brownlee and C.T. Bradford, along with pitchers Nick Routt and Chris Stratton. Cohen likes the leadership those players provide, and he also likes the rate at which his guys are learning and developing.
“We’re able to run a little bit more in the fall instead of walk,” Cohen said. “Meaning our older kids now are coaches on the field – that’s what you want. When you have older guys leading the way, you can run at a faster pace. If you’re constantly having to teach every single thing, then you’re going to crawl along.”
Cohen has a long list of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores that he believes will become impact players come spring. To build off last season, when State went 38-25 and reached the NCAA Super Regionals, those young players will have to fill voids left by the likes of Jarrod Parks, Jaron Shepherd and Nick Vickerson.
Cohen said he expects six or seven of the regular position starters to be sophomores and younger. Among the candidates are infielder Demarcus Henderson, first baseman Wes Rea and catcher-outfielder Hunter Renfroe.
“The faster this group matures, obviously the better they’re going to be. The group that’s here right now has the foundation of being a championship-caliber club,” Cohen said.
Playing in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League over the summer, Renfroe hit .305 with eight home runs and 30 RBIs in 29 games. He expects a lot from himself and his fellow second-year players, and cited the Super Regional run as a “phenomenal” learning experience.
“We expect to go back. We hope to go back,” Renfroe said. “I think we have one of the best teams in the SEC this year, and even though it is young, I think we’re very talented.”
As for pitching, that group finally has the experience and depth Cohen has been trying to build. Stratton, Routt, Evan Mitchell, Caleb Reed and others form a strong core.
The pitching staff also gets Ben Bracewell back after shoulder surgery cost him the 2011 season, and he should vie for a weekend starter’s role.
“We’ve got people to pick each other up if they can’t get the job done,” said Stratton, who hopes to get back the starter’s role he lost last season.
That’s a particular source of motivation for Stratton, a junior from Tupelo, but it’s not the primary source. Coming within eight outs of reaching the College World Series is the driving focus this offseason.
“That just motivates us and helps us to work even harder to get there, because that’s our ultimate goal,” Stratton said. “It doesn’t matter what all the expectations are, that’s what we expect to do, and that’s what we want to do.”
Bulldog World Series moved to Oct. 28 start
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State will extend its fall work by a few days, with the annual Bulldog World Series set to start Oct. 28.
The NCAA allows teams a 45-day window in which to complete fall practices, and coach John Cohen wanted to give his players some time to heal from some bumps and bruises.
Also, a couple of assistant coaches have a big recruiting event in Florida this weekend.
State was originally set to wrap up fall drills Oct. 30. The intrasquad World Series will be a seven-game affairstarting Oct. 28, a Friday, and ending Sunday, Nov. 6.