"The question you get asked most is who do you want to play?" said Cohen at Wednesday's Bulldog practice, held as usual at Creighton University. "That's impossible to answer, because I don't want to play either one of them! But we have to play one of them, and hopefully after an extended break we can come out and play one of our better games."
The coach was only speaking in terms of giving either potential foe a second crack at State, because the first meeting(s) were such intense contests. And in the nature of sports losers can gain an edge for the second time-around. Not least in State's case; the Bulldogs are so reliant on bullpen pitching instead of starters that it is much more likely the opponent has at least some exposure.
Either way, "It gives us a great opportunity to evaluate them, again. Both those clubs are so good," Cohen said. "But what you're not going to see is the guy who is probably going to pitch against you on Friday, whoever that is." State will start specific prepping a Thursday practice as their break continues under this extended tournament format.
"I think in some ways it's unique," said Cohen. "But it really helps your pitching set-up the way that you want." At the same time, we have to keep our guys occupied. They love watching the games that are occurring during the course of the week.
"We're going to do a Zoo trip which I'm sure will be fun for our kids, I know Omaha has one of the great zoos in the country. This city has been so gracious and so welcoming and we're going to take advantage of that by going out. I think our kids enjoy the time off. But at the same time they want to play baseball. That'll happen soon enough."
PLAYING BIG: The opponent-uncertainty did keep practices Tuesday and Wednesday simple, working entirely on State's own basics along with batting practice. Which was quite a show in Hunter Renfroe's case.
The outfielder and first-round draftee hammered four-straight balls over Creighton's leftfield fence in his first turn, then opened the second with another such shot. One easily cleared the evergreens behind the fence and, reportedly, caught a car parked where the owner surely figured would be a safe distance.
Of course Renfroe has batted some balls into the leftfield seat at Ameritrade Park before games too; then during games gone for base hits as per State's preferred approach. He is 2-of-8 in the two games with a run and RBI, and has been intentionally walked once too. Of course three of his outs were fly balls to centerfield, which is not where he wanted to hit or even how.
"If the ball does get in the air its not going to carry at all," Renfroe said. Through eight games only two home runs have been hit, one by LSU's Mason Katz. And while that shot did give the Tiger the SEC lead in homers now, by one over Renfroe's 15, that club headed home today after elimination…an ironic comment on the value of longballs at the current College World Series.
This has led to plenty press-corps discussion, especially from those who either miss the old days when modest-swing shots leaped out of Rosenblatt Stadium; or who aren't regulars covering college baseball and not entertained by what Ameritrade Park requires to win. Some want the walls moved in; some suggest bringing back the hot bats; and more thoughtful types suggest trimming the stitching on college baseballs to decrease the wind resistance enough to give a little more home run potential.
DH Trey Porter hit a Monday night shot that would have left Dudy Noble Field and maybe even Hoover-Met for a grand slam; it was caught on the warning track here. So one would expect Porter to favor a more reachable range. Not necessarily, he said. The Bulldogs have benefitted from at least two big drives staying in, most notably a last-chance drive by Oregon State that would have won the game. It was caught by Renfroe in arms-length of the padding.
"So maybe I won't say move the wall in because it kind of helps us out," said Porter. "You put a good swing on the ball, you expect to get rewarded. But that's how the park plays. So you have to keep it the way it is."
HOMEFIELD AWAY FROM HOME? Clearly, these Bulldogs are the most comfortable club in this particular park when it comes to coping with the wide open spaces. No surprise, outfielder C.T. Bradford says. Dudy Noble Field, as well as games in Hoover and Pearl, prepare them well for professional-sized venues.
And Bradford can tell too, many opponents this week aren't prepared. "They look pretty disappointed when balls get close to the walls and are caught. Some guys kind of throw back their head. It's just part of understanding we play in a big ballpark and we have to hit line drives and ground balls. It's kind of helped us out lately."
Outfielder Demarcus Henderson agrees, the Bulldogs are well-matched to Ameritrade Park on both sides of the equation. "The minute you hit a fly in this park it's more than likely an out," he said. ""Coach Cohen harps on no fly balls, and that's something we pride ourselves on. The minute you try to get big, the minute you swing yourself out of games."
Yet for the obvious playing-comfort level, one aspect of A.P. still makes an impression on these pups. Especially before the first pitch, looking in from his leftfield view and seeing the perspective. "It's kind of crazy," Henderson admits. "You see it on TV and watch it as a kid and it's big. Then you get here and see the stands and are like wow, it's a dream come true!"
SCARS, NOT SCARED: So much attention is given to the sheer size of Ameritrade…one forgets to ask about the area closer to the action. So, let's ask Brett Pirtle: what is the infield like?
"It was good the first day," said the second-sacker. "The second day it was a little hard because they had a game before and it dried-up. But you just have to stay focused no matter how the field is. You just play with confidence no matter if it's a bad hop or it takes and easy hop."
Pirtle of course prefers the routine bouncers. But as he's shown this junior transfer season, he can sure go get one deep in the hole and deliver. Even if it means sacrificing some skin, which he did a weekend ago in Virginia. Pirtle has a big old scab on the outside of the right wrist to remind him.
"That was a ball up the middle when I turned two. That ground, man…the first game it was concrete! I usually never get scabbed-up like that on dives. It took a while to heal!"
Though he does operate on the infield, Pirtle can appreciate the broad horizons of this ballyard and how it impacts the opposition far more than the Bulldogs. A home-field advantage, almost?
"It does, because the other teams play in smaller fields and probably have bigger guys. We play on Dudy Noble and half the time. It's a graveyard. So we're used to playing our ball there, when we come here its just like playing in Dudy Noble. It gives us an advantage, I think."
TEAM PLAYER: Mississippi State has posted two three-run innings so far in Omaha; the second frame against Oregon State, and the eighth against Indiana. The common thread? In both cases, all three RBI came from the bottom-third of the Bulldog order.
Saturday it was a one-run single by 3B Sam Frost and two-run hit by Henderson; on Monday Henderson drove in one with what all saw as the game's best at-bat, then pinch hitter Trey Porter drove in the winning runs with a two-RBI single.
Henderson, batting seventh in both games, is 3-of-7 now with three RBI and a run scored.
Then there is Bradford, swinging sixth and so far without statistical success. He's walked once and scored (Oregon State); and was hit by an Indiana pitch. Otherwise the centerfielder is 0-of-6. Is Bradford discouraged?
Not at all. "I'm going to just keep squaring it up. I thought I hit some balls hard the first game, I hit a ball hard the second game. If they're not falling that's the way it goes, I just want to hit balls hard. And eventually they're going to fall and help the team."
And when he does start reaching base again regularly, the hotter hitting by that bottom-trio whoever they are sets Bradford up for scoring opportunities. "But everything is going good, we're all pulling for each other and in it together. We take care of 1-through-9, just taking care of business and trying to get done what we need to get done."
THE SHIRT OFF THEIR...CHESTS? It was at the Charlottesville super regional several Bulldogs began getting national notice for their, ahem, prominent hairstyles. The brushy looks--and locks--of Jonathan Holder, Wes Rea, and Alex Detz have drawn plenty comments, whether comical or critical, and these hirsute hounds are happy to play along.
Now though another sort of follicle foliage is getting attention, after some dugout shots showed Dog like pitcher Trevor Fitts with jersey unbuttoned and no undershirt. Like anything else this time of season such minor matters become instant fan and media fodder for conversation.
Count Bradford among those going jersey-only here in Omaha. "I am, I've reverted to that recently as its gotten hotter." Of course the Pace, Fla., native isn't as bothered by heat as most. Still he is happier now playing without the tight tee-shirt. "It's fine, I enjoy getting a little breeze in there!"
So maybe Mississippi State isn't the best-dressed or best-groomed gang in Omaha. So what? Whether it is letting the locks grow, or pitchers organizing the increasingly-famed Bench Mob (see previous story), or playing with ‘rally beachballs' in the bullpen during late games…why mess with success?
"It's kind of a weird thing these guys are doing," said Bradford. "I've never seen it on a team like this. But it seems to be working, even when we're down late in a game we still find a way to relax and still score runs."
INTER-LEAGUES: Until Monday, Indiana was the only member of current Big Ten lineup Mississippi State had never played. Against the others Bulldogs teams had a 59-45-7 record, including two wins over newest member Nebraska when they were part of the Big XII.
In fact this State team was 2-0 against the Big Ten before the Series, having taken two from Purdue back in February at Dudy Noble Field. Oddly enough, Indiana and Purdue did not play in the regular season. Only Illinois (28-15-5) had a winning record, with most of the meetings from 1913-31 though.
By contrast, State is 17-18 over the years against the current Pac 12 lineup, counting Monday's win over Oregon State.