OMAHA, Neb. — “It’s a business trip.”
These are the words Mississippi State University baseball coach John Cohen and his players used entering the College World Series last week. After two victories secured the Bulldogs a place in the winners’ bracket and three days off without having to play a game, nothing has changed.
Now that MSU (50-18) is one win away from getting its first chance to play for its first national championship, the Bulldogs are trying to follow a routine that is similar to another Southeastern Conference road trip or the team’s stay in the NCAA Charlottesville Super Regional.
“What you do is get into a routine and you stick with that plan no matter the circumstances because that’s what has worked to get you into this position,” Cohen said Sunday before a workout at Creighton University’s practice facility.
MSU and other teams in the top half of the CWS bracket have used Creighton’s field turf facility, which is blocks from TD Ameritrade Park, to conduct short but intense practice sessions to keep the players sharp before their games at the College World Series.
MSU will work out at 9 a.m. today and then will head to the Omaha Zoo for a team function sponsored by College World Series promotional officials. After that, MSU players will have the rest of the day to relax at the Double Tree Hotel, where they’ve been for the last week.
“I know our kids are excited about this great opportunity, but they also realize this isn’t a vacation, it’s a business trip,” Cohen said. “They all realize that.”
Wes Rea, who has presented a fun-loving and care -free attitude toward life in his time with the media and CWS officials, said before the team left for Omaha, Neb., that the Bulldogs would treat the experience like a road series. It has helped that the players haven’t had classes or haven’t had to deal with any other distractions since the postseason started.
“You don’t see Alabama football players talking about the great sites and sounds of the bowl experiences do you?” Rea asked. “Of course you don’t. They’re there to win the football game at the end of day, and winning this national championship is our primary focus.”
Rea is 8-for-16 with three runs scored and five RBIs in the past four games. He was 3-for-12 with three RBIs in the NCAA Starkville Regional.
“I think guys on this team live for these moments to get the big RBI in a game,” said Rea, who has had RBIs in the past three games. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be up in those situations and then got the job done. It’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
Cohen attributes Rea’s clutch performances to his 272-pound first baseman’s focus and the work he does practice, including how MSU simulates the two-strike, two-out approach to hitting.
“I think that’s one of the areas where our club really offensively thrives with two strikes because I just think we take better swings with two strikes than we do earlier in the count,” Cohen said. “When I’m watching our guys hit, I’m not even watching the pitcher. I’m looking at the rhythm of the hitter and trying to decide if he’s in rhythm and if he’s going to take good swings.”
The major benefit to not having to play until Friday is it gives the bullpen time to recharge. Senior left-hander Chad Girodo likely would be the only pitcher whose pitch count would be monitored after he pitched 6 1/3 innings in relief Monday night in a 5-4 victory against Indiana University.
“I think it helps us probably a little bit more than others because we are so dependent on our bullpen,” Cohen said. “I think it helps everybody. Your kids are going to play better when they don’t have to play day after day after day, and I think it really helps when you don’t have to play a day game after a night game. I don’t think there’s a coach out there who doesn’t really like the way this is set up at the World Series.”