By DANNY P. SMITH
HOOVER, Ala. - Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen said there has always been something for his team to prove since he took over the program in 2008.
The Bulldogs had a record of 23-33 prior to Cohen's arrival and he's been trying to turn the program back around since.
Mississippi State took a step this season by achieving a winning season and reached the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 2007.
Now the Bulldogs are looking for further advancement in the postseason, but those hopes took a hit on Wednesday with a 7-5 loss to the Florida Gators in the SEC Tournament's first round at Regions Park.
MSU's overall record fell to 34-22 and may face a must-win situation today (9:30 a.m.) against the Arkansas Razorbacks if it's to receive an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
Cohen wants his club to play like there's always something on the line because that's the way he approaches it.
"There's always a sense of urgency with me," Cohen said. "Sense of urgency is my middle name. There will be a sense of urgency when we take batting practice (today). We come to the ballpark with a sense of urgency. Every time a team from this league takes the field, there should be a sense of urgency."
If an NCAA bid was slipping away, the Bulldogs didn't appear to be too concerned about it following the heart-breaking loss.
"We haven't thought about the NCAA to be honest with you," MSU senior second baseman Nick Vickerson said. "We're still trying to come back (today) and win. We want to win this tournament. We're not thinking about the NCAA right now."
Even if the Bulldogs don't win today and go 0-2 in Hoover, they may still have a high enough rating performance index to make the NCAA Tournament.
MSU had an RPI of No. 28 by BoydsWorld.com going into the SEC Tournament and stood at No. 24 in the WarrenNolan.com ratings after falling to the Gators.
WarrenNolan.com also ranks the strength of schedule for the Bulldogs at No, 22 and that's what Mark Etheridge, the publisher of SEBaseball.com, thinks gets them in.
"I think no matter what happens against Arkansas, their fate is safe," Etheridge said. "Historically, the teams that don't make it into regionals that make the SEC Tournament are usually the ones that don't have a good strength of schedule."
Etheridge projects MSU to be sent to the Atlanta Regional, hosted by Georgia Tech, as the third seed.
Florida baseball coach Kevin O'Sullivan believes the Bulldogs deserve to be included when the field is announced by ESPN on Monday.
"In my opinion, absolutely," O'Sullivan said. "They have some dangerous hitters at the top of the lineup in (Cody) Freeman and (Jarrod) Parks. (Jaron) Shepherd has really improved as the year has gone along. I think they have as good of a chance as anybody. If Devin Jones can harness that slider like he did (Wednesday), they're going to be tough."
In 2007, MSU had a record of 33-20 after going 0-2 in the SEC Tournament with losses to Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs were still invited to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the College World Series.