Over the weekend, Mississippi State’s baseball team saw an eight-run lead nearly evaporate in two innings, fell behind in game two of a doubleheader, then watched Alabama get another big lead in the final game of the series on Sunday.
The result? A 3-0 weekend record for the Bulldogs, sweeping Alabama at Dudy Noble Field.
“When you look at games like this,” head coach John Cohen said, “it’s that character, that work ethic and that belief in yourself that gets you through those games. This is what we expect of our kids, especially the older ones who have been through that before.”
After being swept on the road at Vanderbilt last week, Cohen’s club was badly in need of wins to calm the waters and maintain hopes of hosting an NCAA regional.
The good news, he said, is he had the right guys in the dugout already.
“We got swept last weekend,” junior outfielder C.T. Bradford said. “Monday and Tuesday practice, you had no idea we even got swept. That’s the way our guys are.”
The key, according to Bradford and Cohen, is confidence and maturity.
Maturity of sorts, anyway.
In the 11th inning of game three on Sunday, Cohen’s eyes were on Hunter Renfroe at the plate. Behind him, senior pitcher Luis Pollorena, wearing a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, led a circular line dance around the dugout.
“That’s the walk-off walk,” Bradford said with a laugh. “That’s the way our team is. We stay loose. We don’t get too fired up and that’s a good thing. We stay calm and we deliver.”
“They’re just really mentally tough kids,” Cohen said. “They work at it every single day. They get after it. It’s fun to be a part of.”
Cohen said he’d love to take credit for it, but if he’s honest with himself, thinks the type of person a player will be is already “set in stone” when they get to campus.
That’s why, he says, he’s lucky to have such a good group.
And at this point in the season, he leans on both the confidence and maturity of his players.
Still tied at 6 in that 11th inning on Sunday, Cohen went to talk strategy with Bradford before he got to the plate.
Cohen did what coaches do. He gave instructions.
Then, Bradford did what veterans do.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’m on this guy. I’m gonna hit the ball hard. I’m seeing this really well,’” Cohen said.
With two men on base and one out, Bradford did exactly that. He hit the ball hard and Renfroe sped his way from second to home, scoring the winning run and securing the series sweep for MSU.
“That’s what you want from your experienced guys,” Cohen said after the game.
The walk-off walk did its job.
“Small picture, we needed it for our confidence,” sophomore closer Jonathan Holder said. “During practice this week, we practiced like nothing happened last weekend. That’s what good teams do. They come out and they get their work done and I think it paid off.
“There’s gonna be games in the future we’re gonna have to come back and win and that gets us prepared for it.”
And the future is certainly on MSU’s mind. The Diamond Dawgs head to Oxford this weekend for a big SEC West series against Ole Miss, then host South Carolina on the final weekend, winners of two of the last three College World Series, as Cohen pointed out.
The confidence, as well as the wins, is coming at the right time for MSU.
“It’s a springboard,” Cohen said. “I really believe, and I’ve been saying this for a long time, I think they can get on a roll and I think they can do some things in the postseason. But we’re not there yet and we still have a lot going on in the regular season.”