HOOVER, Ala. — Television analyst Kyle Peterson knows a thing or two about good baseball.
An All-American at Stanford and former major league baseball player, Peterson has made himself a household name as ESPN’s lead college baseball analyst.
Peterson, who is in Hoover, Alabama, covering the Southeastern Conference tournament for ESPN, believes Mississippi State’s John Cohen has done one of the best coaching jobs this season.
“Two coaching jobs really stand out,” Peterson said. “For my money, what John has done is a little bit past incredible. To go from worst to first in the nation’s best conference is a major statement.”
MSU capped its meteoric rise Saturday by winning the school’s first outright Southeastern Conference baseball regular-season championship since 1989. On Wednesday, MSU opened the SEC tournament with a 4-1 victory against Alabama at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
In 2015, MSU lost 18 of its final 21 regular-season games. The Bulldogs failed to qualify for the conference tournament or a NCAA regional and finished last in the 14-team league with an 8-22 mark in league play. It was Cohen’s third losing season in eight years as head coach.
Today, MSU will take a 12-game winning streak into its third-round matchup against LSU, which beat Florida 5-3 in 14 innings.
“There is just not that big a difference between first place and last place in our league,” Cohen said. “I think people make a big deal of that. However, you can have a set of injuries or other situations that pop up. It can get away from you just as easily as you can achieve success…you have to keep fighting. It can be turned around rather quickly.”
■ ■ ■
“The traditional powers will not be down long,” said Kendall Rogers, who is an editor and chief contributor to the web site www.d1baseball.com. “If you have some tradition, it is much easier to make the climb back to the top. In Mississippi State’s case, it was still a program three years removed from playing for the national championship.
“You are seeing players who signed during that run making major contributions now. In college sports, you just don’t see patience. You can’t let a program be down for extended period of time. However, even the stronger programs will have a down cycle.”
After winning 24 games last season, MSU won 41 this year, including a school-record 21 conference games in the regular season. It swept three-straight conference foes to end the season for the first time since 1989. The nine wins helped MSU win the league by one-half game.
Jackson native Jake Mangum, a freshman outfielder, leads the conference with a .430 batting average. He became the first freshman to win the Ferriss Award, which is given annually to the state’s top player. Mangum also was named Freshman of the Year by the conference. Cohen was named SEC Coach of the Year.
The Bulldogs also overcame losing veteran pitching coach Butch Thompson during fall practice. Wes Johnson came over from Dallas Baptist to replace Thompson, who left to become head coach at Auburn. Behind the stellar 1-2 duo of Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton, the Bulldogs have been dominant on the mound.
“Everybody was disappointed in last year, but it made us work harder,” MSU junior outfielder Reid Humphreys said. “This program was headed in the right direction and last year was a step back. I don’t last year was really representative of what we are all about.
“Baseball is a mental game and you have to play it with a lot of confidence.”
MSU earned that confidence by winning nine of 10 conference series for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs won all five road series, including victories against top-five foes Vanderbilt, Florida, and LSU.
“You saw a different demeanor and attitude this year,” said Cohen, who also guided a worst-to-first transformation in 2005 and 2006 at Kentucky. “In this league, you are never as good as you look and never as bad, either. The margin for error is thin. This group of guys stepped up and has taken what they believe should be theirs.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.