Baseball: It’s Omaha or bust for MSU

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Wes Rea has become a big voice for Mississippi State, and he’s proclaimed big expectations.
Rea’s Bulldogs open the 2013 baseball season at 4 p.m. today against Portland, and it’s a season filled with high hopes for a team ranked No. 5 in the country by Baseball America.
Fifth-year head coach John Cohen has been rebuilding MSU in his image in an effort to return to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., and Rea, a sophomore first baseman and team co-captain, believes this is the year it happens.
Back in the fall, he sent out this bold Twitter message: “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!”
He hasn’t backed off that sentiment.
“I feel like it’s important to let everybody know that I think the tradition is back,” Rea said. “Coach Cohen has brought it back, and he’s got the guys in the room who need to be there to get us to where we want to be and where everybody else wants us to be.”
Rea’s belief is bolstered by the fact that, on paper, this looks like Cohen’s best team to date. The pitching staff returns largely intact, the offense is expected to make a big jump, and there is both experience and depth to spare.
The Bulldogs went 40-24 last season and won the SEC Tournament title. They earned a second consecutive NCAA regional berth.
MSU has made eight previous trips to Omaha, most recently in 2007. Cohen played on the 1990 squad that reached the CWS, so he recognizes the traits necessary for a team seeking such a lofty goal.
“Our kids have a little bit of a swagger to them, and that’s important, because that swagger carries you through the tough times,” Cohen said. “You really have to have a belief in yourself, and there will be some down times.”
Built for success
Pitching depth, defensive acumen and speed go a long way, too, and those qualities were present last season. What remains to be seen is whether MSU can improve offensively – it hit .251 last year and scored 4.5 runs per game.
There is a general belief both inside and outside the team that the bats will come around. Returnees like Rea, Hunter Renfroe and Mitch Slauter are expected to build off strong offseasons, and some newcomers like Brett Pirtle should help.
“The bats are going hot right now, and I’m just ready to show it and put it on display,” Rea said.
Sophomore left-hander Jacob Lindgren will start on the mound for MSU today. He logged 281⁄3 innings last year and is expected to vie for the regular Friday night starting role.
brad.locke@journalinc.com