By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – Even a day later, it hadn’t really sunk in to players or coaches that Mississippi State is two wins from a national championship.
The Bulldogs (51-18) were back at work at Creighton University’s baseball field on Saturday, a day after defeating Oregon State to advance to the finals of the College World Series. They’ll meet UCLA (47-17) in Game 1 of the best-of-three series at 7 p.m. Monday (ESPN).
“Grasping it and having it thrown in your face all the time are two different things,” head coach John Cohen said just before practice. “I don’t grasp it, because I’m thinking about the drill work we’re about to do, and I mean that sincerely.”
Cohen said he was dining with friends and alumni Friday night, and of course all they could talk about was that was at stake in the coming days. The thought Cohen had was how his friends who are successful in business or other endeavors don’t get caught up in the big, sweeping picture.
“They’re not thinking about what could happen or history, they’re thinking about, these tasks have to get done, and if they don’t, my business or my work won’t get done,” he said.
“I really believe that’s the overriding task of these kids, and I think that’s maturity, and that comes from the way you’re raised and really the environment that you’re in.”
First baseman Wes Rea said he and some teammates were sitting in their downtown hotel after Friday’s game discussing the same thing, “saying it really does feel like we just have two more games. … I don’t really think we’re thinking, hey, we’re playing for a national championship on Monday.”
Cohen offered his first thoughts on UCLA, which advanced by beating North Carolina, 4-1, on Friday night. The Bruins don’t put up big offensive numbers – they’re hitting .248 on the season – but they are efficient on offense, have a strong pitching staff and play excellent defense.
“Everybody talks about their numbers offensively, but they get key hits, and when they get a guy to first base they know how to get him in to score,” Cohen said.
Against North Carolina, the Bruins had just six hits, but five of them came with runners in scoring position.
“If you watched us tonight, that’s kind of what we’ve been,” UCLA coach John Savage said Friday. “A good friend of mine that’s a scout back home calls us the Westwood Giants – kind of like the San Francisco Giants from a year ago.”
MSU won a coin flip and chose to be the home team for Monday’s first game, which means UCLA gets to be home for Game 2. State will also be the home team if there is a Game 3.