STARKVILLE -- Following its run in the 2013 College World Series, the Mississippi State baseball squad is ready to repeat its appearance in the 2014 campaign. But this time, the No. 2 preseason Bulldogs expect to bring home a national title.
"This year, it wasn't a big deal to let people know our expectations,'' said team captain Wes Rea. "They know our expectations based on how we play and how we performed last year and what coach (John) Cohen has going on now with this program.
"There's a quiet confidence that goes on in the locker room. We go about our business everyday. From the outside looking in, people know what to expect as opposed to telling people what to expect."
Rea, a Harrison Central High School product, is one of the top returners to the 2014 squad. He was selected to the CWS all-tournament team, and Cohen said Rea will bring leadership to the team.
"I think Wes is in the best physical condition of his career. He is like having a coach on the field. He sees the game differently than most kids his age. He is a great defender. His plan has gotten better and better," Cohen said. "I think if he stays healthy -- and he's worked hard to stay healthy -- I think he can have a great year for us."
On the mound, the Bulldogs will call on experienced starters in Brandon Woodruff and Ben Bracewell. Although the Bulldogs do not have a set rotation, Cohen said the coaching staff will get a good look at multiple pitchers during their four-game series against Hofstra this weekend.
"I think we're going to have an opportunity, with four ball games, to play a lot of people,'' Cohen said. "It forces us to pitch at least eight guys through the course of the weekend. We're really going to try and pair two starters with each ball game to help us get a little evaluation on who are going to end up being those three guys on the weekend when we start league play.''
Out of the bullpen, the Bulldogs welcome back preseason All-American and Gulfport native Jonathan Holder. Holder set MSU career and single-season saves records last season (30/21) and is 13 saves back from being the SEC All-time leader in
saves behind South Carolina's Matt Price (2009-12). Aside from the accolades last season, Holder said there is still a lot of work to be done.
"There's just a lot of hard work,'' Holder said. "When you have a couple of good years, you just have to come back in the fall and realize it's a new year. It's not last year and it's not my freshman year. You work hard, you come back and you get in the grind.
"We proved we are able we can win a national championship. We just have to finish it off there at the end."
Holder also noted the opportunity he gets to play alongside Rea and former Coast standouts.
"Last year I think we counted six people that played here from the Coast,'' he said. "This year we have some guys and it's fun that we competed against each other and with each other in high school, and now we're at the next level competing."
Along with Holder and Rea, outfielder Cody Brown (Biloxi) and pitchers Jacob Lindgren (Bay St. Louis) and Myles Gentry (Gulfport) represent the Gulf Coast on the Bulldog roster.
"It's really cool,'' Rea said. "Coming up here my freshman year, I was really the only one from the Coast. The next year we get Jonathan Holder and Trey Porter, and it was cool to feel like a light to the coaches and say, 'There's a lot of talent down there. You need to go down there and look,' which they always do.
"It was really neat for them to join the club and have a Coast tribute going on for the years to come."
The Bulldogs open the 2014 season at Dudy Noble Field on Friday at 4 p.m. against Hofstra.