Hudson Starts, Bats Complete 7-2 Win

If Dakota Hudson thought his first college start, and success, negated all pitching staff regulations…nope. He still had to wear that kiddie-colorful backpack as penalty for giving up a home run. "They already passed it on to me," Hudson grinned.

The smile was natural, and the backpack no burden at all for the true freshman after getting the Bulldogs going towards a 7-2 Mississippi State victory over Western Carolina. Sunday's win gave the Bulldogs (2-1) the series, while the Catamounts left 1-2.

Mississippi State not only clinched a hastily-arranged series against a defending Southern Conference championship club. They may have found the newest member of their own conference rotation after Hudson's impressive rookie performance. The righthander worked 4.0 full innings with four hits, only one of which mattered as it was a solo shot in the fourth inning.

Otherwise Hudson stranded the other three that reached on contact and another Catamount he plunked. He struck out two with no walks of the 16 faced. In the process he became the first true frosh to start for State on an opening weekend since Chris Stratton in 2010. He didn't get awarded the winning decision, having worked short of the fifth inning.

Nor did he care. "It was a great experience to be able to throw on this stage," Hudson said. "It was fun out there, me and Zack Randolph had a great time back there, he called a lot of good pitches." He also got great defense behind him, save of course for the one big drive that nobody was going to glove and which meant per rules he had to wear the backpack. Reliever Ben Bracewell picked up the decision by scoring rules, working 1.1 middle innings as the third Dog to take the hill.

"I was really pleased with Dakota," Coach John Cohen said. "He started his career off pretty nicely. Any time you can watch a freshman roll it out there 94, 96 miles per hour with a good breaking ball that's a great start for him."

The great start was reinforced by one great offensive inning from the home team. Bulldog batters didn't have a huge opening weekend but when they did score it was always in crooked numbers. Sunday saw the best, a five-run barrage in the third inning that sent State to the series victory.

"They're a real good pitching staff so it was tough to get key hits, but we came through," said 2B Brett Pirtle, whose three-run triple was the biggest hit of the whole weekend. It came off Catamount righthander T.J. Fussell, a graduate student and transfer granted the extra year's eligibility to pitch at another program. He will be a force in the SoCon after giving State some fits the first two turns, retiring six straight Dogs with three swinging strikeouts.

"He just pounded the zone and kept us off-balance," Pirtle said.

Fortunately for the home Hudson did too, showing a 10 mph differential in just the first inning. He did get taken up the middle in the first inning by Cody Jones but stranded him on one fly ball; then got three more in-order in the short second inning. Two outs into his third turn order-topper Aaron Attaway was first-pitch swinging and singled. A run-and-hit was excecuted by Bradley Strong with a single through the opened right side for runners on corners. Hudson responded with a fly ball to leftfield off Jones to keep it scoreless.

Or it was until the Bulldog bats came alive in their half of the third. RF Demarcus Henderson lifted a fly ball that his Catamount counterpart mis-read, then just missed off the end of the glove for a double. SS Matthew Britton won his long battle with Fussell to draw a full-count walk. Two outs later 3B Alex Detz kept the inning going with a full-count walk.

1B Wes Rea had been the clutch batter with Bulldogs on bases this series, yet he didn't have to swing to put his team on the board today. With 2-2 count he took a Fussell pitch off the shoulder for a free if painful RBI. The scoring ice broken, Pirtle broke the game entirely open. "He was just staying simple really to lefties and with people on base he was throwing first pitch changeups. So I wasn't going to be surprised when he threw it low-and-in, and I kind of let it loose."

The drive paralleled the right-field line and rattled around in the corner long enough for Rea to follow two teammates home from first. CF C.T. Bradford's contact didn't go nearly so far, but the nubber was misplayed for an infield single scoring Pirtle for a 5-0 lead through three.

That allowed Hudson to return for the fourth, only to serve up a full-count fat one that Jacob Hoyle lined over rightfield for a solo home run. A plunking of Dale Urquhart meant a mound conversation, with Hudson staying and getting taken deep by Dykota Spiess. Urguhart was so sure the shot was gone he was halfway between second and third when Henderson made the warning-track reach and catch. The relay from Pirtle went over Rea's reach, no mean feat, but catcher Randolph had the throw backed up for a most unusual 9-4-2-3 double-play. A pop-out ended the inning and his first college outing.

"Certainly he ran out of gas a little bit, that was something we were concerned about when a young freshman is trying to amp it up a little bit," Cohen said. "But I thought he did a nice job getting us underway, challenging the strike zone with good stuff."

RHP Preston Brown began the to-fifth with a walk, and a one-out single had two Catamounts on. Strong drove the ball straight to centerfield with Bradford positioned perfectly for the catch. On 2-2 count to Jones RHP Ben Bracewell took over, and his first pitch apparently missed wide. The second was bounced too slowly to shortstop for Britton's throw to beat Jones at first base.

With all posts occupied and home-run hitter Hoyle back up, Bracewell got ahead 1-2 and finished it off with a swinging strikeout. He put a pair on via sixth inning walks but escaped with a called strikeout and fine double-play begun by Britton going behind the bag for a get.

Lefthander Nate Williams replaced Fussell at last for the State sixth. He stranded pinch-runner Derrick Armstrong on second base, and got away with a two-out walk of Detz with wild pitches advancing him to third base; and intentional pass of Rea.

Bulldog freshman RHP Austin Sexton took over for the WCU seventh and went in-order including fly-outs of Attaway and Strong. The eighth was more challenging for the rookie with a one-out single and walk. Sexton stemmed any surge with a swinging strikeout, then on a grounder to the right side that pulled Rea off the bag the pitcher covered in time for Pirtle's flip.

Bradford was drilled to open the Bulldog eighth and made second on a wild pitch, which yanked Williams for lefthander Bryan Sammons. He only worsened the situation with walks of Derrick Armstrong and Henderson. Substitute swinger Daniel Garner lined to the second baseman though and Bradford was caught too far off third base for the double-play.

The inning wasn't wasted though as Randolph singled to rightfield and Armstrong scored from second base. Consecutive walks of Brown and Detz forced in a seventh run and meant one more mound move for the Catamounts, with righty Danny Schneider mercifully ending the inning on a fly ball.

Those two runs looked better when WCU mounted a late challenge, with a two-out double by Attaway and RBI-hit from Strong. LHP Vance Tatum came in for the final out, the eighth strikeout of a Catamount on the day. Fussell took the loss on 5.0 innings with the five runs on just three hits but three walks. He did fan nine Bulldogs out of the staff's total ten. And the top four in the WCU order accounted for all nine hits, led by Attaway's three safeties.

State won with just four base hits because there were ten walked and two plunked Bulldogs, five of whom scored. Cohen wasn't content with the game, or weekend's batting results but did like how his team made use of free passes and made the other staff work. "We created some walks and some pressure," he said.

Mississippi State has a couple of days to evaluate the opening weekend, which was just three games with a very good club instead of four against a lighter-weight Hofstra which had to cancel due to travel issues. The advantage is the Bulldogs, especially first-time starters and first-year players, got a little better measure of themselves. Plus there should be a few more arms available for the first midweek test, this Wednesday against Memphis. Cohen said somebody who didn't throw at all this first weekend will get that start, no clue who yet, but likely it would be a lot of short stints combined because there is a four-game weekend ahead against Holy Cross. And the weather is forecast to be no problem at all.

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