John Cohen came to Omaha as a Mississippi State player in 1990 in search of college baseball’s brass ring.
Cohen’s team left after a 1-2 stay, and it’s taken him 23 seasons to get back to the College World Series. The team he brought with him is focused on making some history as it tries to wrap up the school’s first national championship in any sport.
The Bulldogs’ only NCAA tournament loss came in the regional, but they bounced back the next night to claim the title by defeating Central Arkansas. They shocked No. 6 national seed Virginia in sweeping the best-of-three super regional and have been efficient in claiming the three wins in Omaha that put them into the CWS final against UCLA.
Mississippi State showed its moxie with eighth-inning rallies that produced wins over Oregon State and Indiana in the first two rounds. The Bulldogs grabbed the lead in Friday’s rematch with Oregon State and never let go, riding a strong performance by starter Kendall Graveman and a three-run homer by Hunter Renfroe to a 4-1 win.
The Bulldogs plan to start sophomore right-hander Trevor Fitts on Monday. He started the Indiana game but has pitched just 281⁄3 innings this season.
Omaha has come to learn whom Mississippi State starts is immaterial at this point. Cohen’s unorthodox approach has left the Bulldogs relying heavily on the bullpen trio of Ross Mitchell, Chad Girodo and Jonathan Holder. Mitchell and Girodo have combined to win 22 games, while Holder has saved 21.
Offensively, Mississippi State has been relentless in pressuring opponents. Adam Frazier has been the perfect leadoff man, hitting .400 in the tournament with a .442 on-base percentage, in setting up the Bulldogs’ productive men in the middle — Renfroe, Brett Pirtle and Wes Rea.
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Hitter to watch
RF Hunter Renfroe: Mississippi State coach John Cohen admits Renfroe’s first two seasons in Starkville had some fans questioning whether Renfroe would ever be a big-time contributor. He started five games as a freshman, hit .154 and had a 9.64 ERA in a handful of pitching performances. He hit .254 as a sophomore while starting 60 of 61 games in the outfield. Renfroe quieted his critics with a breakout junior season that saw him hit .355, slam 16 homers, drive in 65 runs and become the No. 13 pick in the first-year player draft.
SS Adam Frazier: .358, 20 2Bs, 38 RBIs, 8 SBs
3B Alex Detz: .320, 14 2Bs, 1 HR, 31 RBIs
RF Hunter Renfroe: .355, 16 HRs, 65 RBIs, 9 SBs
2B Brett Pirtle: .312, 2 HRs, 33 RBIs, 9 SBs
1B Wes Rea: .300, 12 2Bs, 7 HRs, 40 RBIs
CF C.T. Bradford: .283, 1 HR, 26 RBIs, 8 SBs
DH Trey Porter: .357, 1 HR, 22 RBIs
LF Demarcus Henderson: .278, 0 HRs, 23 RBIs
C Nick Ammirati: .247, 1 HR, 23 RBIs
Pitcher to watch
RP Chad Girodo: Kendall Graveman is the gritty competitor at the front end and Jonathan Holder is the power thrower on the back end. Without Chad Girodo in the middle, the Bulldogs probably wouldn’t be playing in the final series. He stepped up big in the regional final to turn back Central Arkansas and again in Mississippi State’s second-game win over Indiana in Omaha. Girodo is 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his four tournament appearances. He has struck almost as many hitters (34) in his 191⁄3 tournament innings as the 39 he punched out in his 32 2⁄3 innings prior to the start of NCAA play.
RP Jonathan Holder: 2-0, 1.24 ERA, 21 saves, 86 Ks
RP Ross Mitchell: 13-0, 1.27 ERA, 2 saves,
RP Ben Bracewell: 1-1, 1.48 ERA, .170 OBA
SP/RP Trevor Fitts: 0-0, 2.86 ERA, .224 OBA
SP Kendall Graveman: 8-5, 3.09 ERA, .267 OBA
SP Luis Pollorena: 6-3, 4.32 ERA
.304: One of the reasons the Bulldogs have been successful in the tournament is that they have not had any offensive drop-off in their nine games. In fact, Mississippi State’s .304 tournament batting average is higher than its overall .297 mark. That’s enabled the Bulldogs not to put undue pressure on the other aspects of their game.
Mississippi State will win if
The Bulldogs’ relievers keep making pitches in clutch situations. Mississippi State depends heavily on left-handers Chad Girodo and Ross Mitchell and right-hander Jonathan Holder. With runners in scoring position, the three relievers have limited opponents to a .091 batting average.