January 24, 2013 11:26:34 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE - It has become a single destination approach for the Mississippi State University baseball program and head coach John Cohen knows it.
After receiving the program's first Top 5 preseason ranking from Baseball America, Cohen knows the success of the season revolves around getting to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
"Every one of our recruits, current players, coaches, administration and fans need to have Omaha as the expectation of this program," Cohen said Thursday.
It's the fourth Top 20 ranking for the Mississippi State team this season and the program's highest since MSU took a program-first No. 1 preseason national ranking into the 1989 campaign. MSU picked up a fourth top 20 ranked Thursday afternoon when USA Today listed the Bulldogs in a tie for 18th in that publication's coaches' poll.
MSU hasn't been ranked this high in BA's Top 25 poll since being ranked No. 1 in the 2006 poll before tumbling through a tailspin during Southeastern Conference play that involved it missing out on SEC Tournament play.
"(CWS in Omaha) was the expectation of this program when I played here at MSU and that's where we want to be now. It's no different," Cohen said.
MSU features 23 lettermen returning from last year's squad that posted a 40-24 record and advanced to NCAA postseason play after winning the SEC Tournament Championship. The veteran squad includes 14 of the 18 players who drew starts in the Bulldog batting order last spring and 12 of the 19 pitchers that combined for an SEC-leading 2.58 staff earned run average, second-best in the NCAA.
The Bulldogs boast an All-America prospect in shortstop Adam Frazier before a single game is played.
Frazier has added another preseason All-America team honor to his growing list of credits last week when the national baseball scouting service Perfect Game tabbed him as a second-team selection. He was among nine players from the Southeastern Conference included on the first or second-team honor units compiled by Perfect Game.
Frazier was accorded similar honors in the past month from Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association as well. As a sophomore, he led MSU and ranked third in the SEC with 91 hits and a .371 batting average. The Georgia native was also voted the most valuable player of the SEC Tournament in Hoover.
"The offense should be much more potent than it was a year ago, and the pitching and defense will be elite," Baseball America national writer Aaron Fitt said. "This is a very deep, balanced, battle-tested team with its eye on a national title, and anything less than a trip to Omaha will be a disappointment."
The University of North Carolina heads up the Baseball America rankings which include eight teams from the SEC: (No. 2 Vanderbilt University, No. 3 University of Arkansas, No. 5 MSU, No. 7 University of South Carolina, No. 10 Louisiana State University, No. 11 University of Kentucky, No. 13 University of Mississippi and No. 17 University Florida).
The Bulldogs open their formal preseason team workouts with a trio of afternoon scrimmages this weekend (today at 4 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m). All MSU baseball practices are open to the public.
When they open up formal practice work at Dudy Noble Field, Cohen knows full well the time for realistic goals and rebuilding is over. The time for the baseball program in Starkville to be elite is now.
"It's accurate that in terms of talent, leadership, maturity & closeness -- it's the best team we've had here at MSU," Cohen said.