"Yeah, we're not really satisfied with getting there. We have to take care of business."
Business resumes for the Bulldogs on Monday evening as they face off with UCLA in the best-of-three series to settle this national championship. Mississippi State (51-18) earned its berth in the finals by eliminating Oregon State on Friday afternoon; while the Bruins (47-17) knocked out North Carolina in the ‘final four' evening game.
By avoiding the messy if-necessary round both bracket champs earned free time Saturday and Sunday in advance of their showdown. Both are playing for their schools' first baseball championship. This is the second time in four seasons a Bruins team has reached the championship series as in 2010 they were beaten twice by another SEC squad, South Carolina. UCLA is in the College World Series for the third time in four years having finished tied for fifth last season.
Mississippi State has reached the title games for the first time ever, and in the program's ninth trip to Omaha. Already these 3-0 Bulldogs have won more times than the rest, and still Coach John Cohen's club isn't content.
"We've got two more wins to go," Frazier said.
Getting them will be as difficult a task as any State has attempted all season, regular- or post- alike. Frazier has watched UCLA a couple times already and come away impressed, most of all with the arms and gloves. "Just good pitching and good defense. They're hitting like last in the World Series and really relying on that."
It's true, the Bruins have batted just .182 in their three games…rather, three victories. Of their 16 base hits only two went for extra bags, both doubles. They will work for walks regularly yet also have struck out frequently. So what has brought this bunch to the brink of a national championship?
Pitching, fielding, and a knack for just out-lasting the other team. Frazier can see some similarities in fact to stretches of Mississippi State's own season when the offense wasn't producing runs, or even better the 2012 team which batted badly yet frustrated foes with just enough scoring to succeed. UCLA is completely comfortable in nailbiters, waiting and working for that one point where the opponent breaks down and then pouncing for the decisive runs.
"Good teams take advantage of everybody's mistakes," Frazier said. "So hopefully we can play our game and not make any mistakes." While at the same time doing something the Bulldogs rarely accomplished this season: taking a good lead and holding it. Friday's 4-1 win over Oregon State might not look like a big offensive affair but by State standards it was a relative romp, thanks to a three-run homer by RF Hunter Renfroe in the middle inning.
And a crooked-letter lead is about all the Bulldog bullpen requires. "So I feel if we can put up some runs we'll have a good shot at winning."
The College World Series cumulative statistics certainly surprise folk familiar with how State has played most of 2013. The Dogs are first in batting at .297. Let that sink in a second. 1B Wes Rea is the leading remaining batter in town with his .462 average as the five ahead of him all exited…after just two games apiece in fact, which might be the most apt commentary on offense in Omaha this year.
2B Brett Pirtle is second in State swinging at .417, with Frazier right behind at .333. He's 4-of-12 with two runs scored from his top-of-order slot. And much like the team ambition, Frazier isn't cheering this either just yet. In fact, "I feel my swing has been a little off, I guess.
"But it's hard to do what I did last weekend every weekend." This a reference to his 8-of-11 hitting at the Charlottesville super regional with five RBI. In the first game he tied the program record with six hits, on a 6-of-6 showing against Virginia. "Nowhere to go but down from that!" he joked. For the entire NCAA Tournament Frazier is leading the squad at .400, 16-of-40 in the nine games.
The thing is though, Mississippi State does not necessarily have to get great games from the order-topper to win now. Or the cleanup man, or the whatever-slot-you-pick. The first two victories here were keyed by production in the bottom third of the order; the third came with Frazier and 3B Alex Detz reaching at the top so Renfroe could drive a three-run homer into the leftfield bullpen. And in the fifth slot Rea has been most steady of all.
As Frazier noted, the key is that everyone in the order knows their role and comes through in time-and-place situations somehow. "I think everybody has been doing pretty good. We're averaging like ten hits a game and the highest batting average here. But we could do better, our bats haven't really gotten going. Maybe a little last game they did. I think we're good to go."
And even if he's not quite as sizzling as the previous tournament, Frazier does keep adding to his season-record total for base hits. His first safety a week ago-Saturday against Oregon State tied the MSU mark of 103; now he is at 106 and still swinging for at least two more games to push the mark farther. Not only that, he broke a tie yesterday with LSU's Alex Bregman for the NCAA hits lead this year. His only other competitor, Colin Moran of North Carolina, is now done with 101.
So count that as an individual national championship already earned by Mississippi State.
"It's pretty awesome," Frazier said. "But I didn't really expect that coming into the year and didn't think about that. We're in the national championship games and that's the main thing that matters. The hits are just a side-award."
The Bulldogs had a late-morning Saturday practice and are off this afternoon with a team meal and movie night ahead. (Note: ‘This Is Spinal Tap' is not on the options list.) The one potential downside to staying in winners bracket all Series has been the down-time. A lot of down-time. TV doesn't allow any compacting of the schedule to fill empty days when no extra games proved necessary. So both Bulldogs and Bruins have two days to deal with before playing for the prize.
"I think it's fine," Frazier said. "We had three days off. It's good to get rested up, and they (UCLA) had a couple of games back-to-back so I know they're happy about having two days off. But for us it is fine. You're 70 games into a season. So you need a couple of days off, or a day off after playing. It's good for everybody to get refreshed and go back after it."
Besides, he added, where some squads might struggle to stay focused during days-off this is a veteran bunch of Bulldogs. They can relax, have fun, and turn it back on come Monday.
Because this journey isn't finished even upon reaching a new program peak. "I feel to get here is good. But you haven't won anything yet, we have two more wins and that's when you win it."