15 June 2011
MSU has concluded the 2011 baseball season. The latest national polls are out and MSU will finish the season 15th in the nation. Not bad.
First, I think it's only fair that I congratulate John Cohen. As I said before, I wasn't sold on him as a coach when he first came in. There were whispers about this guy, he pushes too hard, overworks the players, the players hate him. There were some concerns about his ability to recruit against our SEC rivals. There were concerns about his temper.
For the time being I'm ready to lay those concerns to rest. Cohen inherited a tough situation. He replaced a coaching legend and a roster that had been decimated by the MLB draft. He had to rebuild from the ground up, starting with JUCO players (many of them graduating this year). He hit the recruiting trail hard, gathering top 20 classes consecutively (those players are now ready to inherit the team that our seniors leave behind). Yes, he works the kids hard but at least this year we see that the hard work leads to results. And the temper? Well, it's not any worse than Polk's.
Cohen is a different coach, no doubt. Polk lived and died by the big inning while Cohen likes the small ball, likes to nickle and dime his opponents to death. And you can't argue with results. So, congrats to Coach Cohen, to his players and MSU baseball. We're back on the map and the future looks bright.
And what about this 2011 season? Well, here are my highlights, the biggest wins, the key moments and who I choose as player of the year:
3/20 - MSU beats Vandy 9-8: The opening weekend of conference play and Vandy has already taken the first two games in Nashville. They quickly score 4 runs in the 1st inning of game 3 and we're looking at a sweep. But the Dogs come back and win. They get a victory over a top 5 team and avoid the sweep, while showing us a glimpse of the grit and no-quit attitude that eventually defines this season.
4/5 - MSU beats USM 5-4: USM is nationally ranked. It's a key non-conference and in-state rivalry game. Dogs win and Luis Pollorena becomes a pitching star.
4/8 - MSU beats Florida 7-5: The Gators are another top 5 opponent and State beats them to open the series, scoring the second win vs a nationally ranked team in 3 days.
4/17 - MSU beats Arkansas 5-3: State has lost the first two games against their SEC west rival and a sweep will dim their hopes of the West title but stellar pitching salvages the series.
4/19 - MSU takes the Governor's Cup - enough said.
4/23 - MSU beats South Carolina 5-3: The Dogs secure their 3rd win against the East's big three.
5/1 - MSU beats Bama 8-5: The Dogs are disappointed after being swept in the double-header a day earlier but they show off their mental toughness and scratch out the win, salvaging another series and staying in the SEC West hunt.
MSU takes 2 of 3 from TSUN: It was the most important series of the season, post-season chances on the line. Not to mention the whole Egg bowl on the diamond thing. More importantly, the Rebels had made a run with some recent success and in the past few years had tried to unseat MSU as the state's top program. The Dogs go into a hostile environment and nail down the series win, finishing a 3 for 4 record against the Rebels for 2011 and reasserting the Dogs as top dog in Mississippi.
MSU beats USM to open Regional play: USM fans called the first game a fluke, saying State didn't have to face their staff ace. Well, this time the Dogs face the best USM could offer and marched into the winner's bracket as Pollorena once again shut down the much heralded USM attack.
MSU beats Georgia Tech to sweep through as Regional Champs: The 0-2 showing in the SEC tourney was quickly forgotten and the Dogs were on a roll. Routt dominates the Jackets and State wins their first post-season championship since '07.
MSU beats Florida to force game 3 of Super Regional play: Reed holds off the potent Gator attack and Vickerson immortalizes himself among MSU legendary moments. There were some big wins during the season, but none bigger than this one. Florida had just pounded us the day before and everyone expected them to walk into Omaha. ESPN even called it the most lopsided of all the Super Regionals. And when Vick hit his shot it was ESPN that showed it constantly and began talking of an upset of the Gators. People all over the country saw the "scrappy" Dogs. MSU baseball was back in the national spotlight where it belongs. Of course, midnight struck the next day, but that game will always be remembered, as will Vickerson's heroic blast. It was a defining moment for the season, for the senior class, and up to this point for Cohen's era as head coach.
Player of the Year: Caleb Reed. Hands down. Not even close.
Jarrod Parks was huge at the plate, securing the regular season SEC batting title and hitting over .400 for much of the season. He put up some impressive numbers, but so did Caleb Reed. In truth, when you look at numbers alone it becomes a very difficult decision on who should be our MVP. But look deeper and the decision gets easier. Specifically, look closer at those key victories that I detail above.
Vandy chases CT Bradford after scoring 4 runs in the first inning. Caleb Reed comes in and gives 5 solid innings, allowing 3 earned runs but keeping State in the game enough to come from behind and win. Against USM, Reed comes in and goes 1 2/3 innings allowing one hit and no runs. Three days later against Florida he comes in and pitches the final two innings allowing one hit and zero runs while striking out four.
Facing a sweep from Arkansas, Evan Mitchell and Pollorena give up 3 runs in the first four innings. Reed comes in and pitches the final five innings allowing only one hit. State comes back and wins the ballgame 5-3. Against the #2 Gamecocks, Reed pitches the final 2 2/3 innings allowing only one hit, zero runs and striking out four. He closed out Bama in that key victory, getting the final two outs. He pitched late in both victories over TSUN, closing out the Rebels and securing a key series victory.
Against USM in the Regionals, while Parks posted an 0-4 day, Reed pitches the final 3 innings allowing 3 hits and zero runs to secure the victory. And, of course, against Florida in the Super Regionals he gives a solid 5 1/3 innings, throwing 83 pitches but only allowing 4 hits, setting the table for yet another MSU comeback win. These are more than just a closer pitching the last inning to save a win. No, these are key moments, key situations, where Reed comes in and gets key outs. These are four and five inning performances where our opponents are kept scoreless while the offense chips away at their lead. These performances are so significant that one could even say that without them State doesn't win these ballgames and we don't have the same kind of season.
That's why he's my pick for MVP. And that's why I'm glad he's back next year.