SMITH COLUMN: The bar has been raised for Bulldogs
By DANNY P. SMITH
The bar has been raised for Mississippi State baseball.
After the postseason run the Bulldogs made that left them only one win away from making the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., respectability has been pumped right back into the program.
Mississippi State has a strong baseball tradition, but even the biggest fan had to admit that it was hard to watch the team struggle the last few years.
The Bulldogs went from reaching the CWS in 2007 to suffering their first losing season since 1975 with a 23-33 mark in Ron Polk's final year as coach in 2008.
Polk resigned during the season and John Cohen was hired to try to bring MSU back around.
Things got worse before getting better for the Bulldogs with records of 25-29 in 2009 and 23-33 in 2010. MSU only won six Southeastern Conference games in 2010.
Even though the Bulldogs had a successful ending to this season, it wasn't always a bed of roses. MSU had some tough losses along the way to Florida 18-0, South Carolina 13-4 and LSU 17-1.
The Bulldogs did take some lumps in the SEC, but I can't help to think that the experience made them better and more prepared to win the NCAA Atlanta Regional a couple of weeks ago.
Once facing the rugged SEC schedule and being eliminated in two games from the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala., MSU caught fire and defeated Southern Mississippi, Austin Peay and Georgia Tech to advance to a Super Regional.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs had to face a conference opponent on the road in the Super Regional, but they had Florida, the nation's No. 2 seed, on the ropes and led the third game 6-4 before losing an 8-6 decision that ended the season.
Mississippi State finished with an overall record of 38-25, which is the most wins since the 2007 team had the same number.
The Bulldogs improved their SEC victory total from six to 14, finished second in the SEC Western Division and qualified for the league tournament for the first time since 2007.
Not bad for a squad that was picked to finish last in the SEC West in the preseason.
With MSU's season just coming to a close on Sunday, it's difficult to look ahead this quickly.
However, one can't help but believe that the momentum created by the Bulldogs won't carry over until next season.
There will be a great deal of pressure on Cohen and the MSU coaching staff to not only reach another Super Regional next year, but be in a position to host and make it to the College World Series next year.
Judging from Cohen's comments following Sunday's disappointing loss to the Gators, he won't accept anything less going forward.
"It's a big jump for our program, but I can't stand saying that because I want to be in Omaha," Cohen said. "I don't want to say it's a moral victory. There are none. We've got to get to Omaha and do what it takes."
The Bulldogs lose a fine group of seniors who will be missed, but there are plenty of players left that gained valuable experience.
They will report for work in the fall to get ready to improve on what was accomplished this past season.
Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.
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