February 22, 2018 10:59:57 AM
JACKSON -- Jake Mangum inserted himself in the center of a circle of his teammates and injected life into the celebration.
Standing in left field, members of the Mississippi State baseball team smiled and talked as interim coach Gary Henderson shook hands as he left the dugout. When Henderson reached the outfield, he took Mangum's place to cheers from his players, which he met with a silent tip of the cap.
The celebration following a 12-1 victory against Jackson State on Wednesday provided a welcome release after then-No. 21 Southern Mississippi swept then-No. 23 MSU in a three-game series last weekend and Andy Cannizaro resigned as MSU's baseball coach Tuesday morning. The victory showed how MSU plans to move on by playing and winning games.
"We have great players. We have better people than we do players. Tonight showed that," Henderson said.
Henderson made the job of getting MSU (1-3) re-focused seem to be easy. Henderson said he had a short conversation with MSU Director of Athletics John Cohen about how to move forward. He said his five years as Cohen's assistant coach at Kentucky helped him earn Cohen's trust. Henderson took over at Kentucky after Cohen left to become coach at MSU.
In addition to having Cohen's trust, Henderson had willing and receptive pupils.
"It's definitely an unfortunate event, but we have two ways to react to it: either let it affect us or overcome it, and I think that's what we're going to do," junior outfielder/designated hitter Hunter Vansau said.
Said Mangum, MSU's starting junior center fielder, "We have to stay focused. It's not ideal, but we move forward and it's past us now."
Henderson said he addressed the team as its interim coach for the first time Wednesday morning before it left Starkville.
"We took care of some house-cleaning things, really of no interest to anyone outside of the program," Henderson said. "Just how I wanted to do some things and we talked about establishing an identity -- who we're going to be and how we're going to get it done. It wasn't a real long meeting, but it was to the point and received well."
Henderson said he hasn't talked to his players about dealing with Cannizaro's resignation. He judged the Bulldogs' performance Wednesday as a sign they are doing fine. Vansau said the team hasn't discussed Cannizaro much recently.
Vansau said the team is looking at the episode as a small part of a long season. Mangum said the new clubhouse attitude that emphasizes the future is a collaborative effort among "35 guys trying to do the same thing."
Henderson said the future is the only thing the Bulldogs should be focused on.
"For the most part, you're disappointed and you know immediately you have to move forward," Henderson said. "I'm not sure that's terribly insightful. That's a pretty good slice of common sense."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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