Fortunately no Diamond Dog coach took a step towards the mound. This was Dakota Hudson’s game from literal start to finish. Which he did, going the full-route as Mississippi State topped Ole Miss 3-1 to begin their SEC series.
Hudson used a career-high 11 strikeouts over the nine innings with four hits allowed and the lone run. An un-earned run at that, even if the pitcher had a hand in it. That first-inning score by the Rebels was the only blot on Hudson’s evening though, because he walked none of the 29 faced.
“He just showed that he’s a Friday night ace,” RF Jake Mangum said.
Coach John Cohen, who’s seen his share of Bulldog baseball, thought Hudson’s complete game win ranked with the top-ten Friday night outings ever at Dudy Noble Field. “He doesn’t walk anybody, he punches out 11. And he forces a ton of early contact. You could tell all week long how excited he was to pitch against Ole Miss.”
Excited but not too much. Hudson overcame giving up a quick run in his first inning, having put the leadoff Rebel on base by plunking him with the second pitch. An infield throwing error and on-corners single put him down 1-0 before his offense came to the plate.
All Hudson (4-1) did was end that inning with a swinging strikeout of the cleanup batter; then retire another nine-straight. “I just felt I had to get in there and compete.” Not just compete, but win.
He had some help to minimize the first-frame damage. On the J.B. Woodman single for the RBI, speedy Rebel Error Robinson tried to go first-to-third. Mangum spoiled that with a bullet of a throw from rightfield. “I knew Gavin (Collins) was going to handle that perfectly, I just fed him the ball.” Robinson was out easily.
It was the Bulldogs who made aggressive baserunning pay off better, such as on the quick tying run in the bottom of the first. Mangum singled with one out and was able to take second base on a long fly ball by 1B Nate Lowe. The unusual ‘sacrifice’ paid off when LF Reid Humphreys singled into center and Mangum scored unchallenged.
That set the evening’s offensive theme. Twice Mangum tagged on Lowe fly balls to advance. The next case came in the MSU sixth after he’d reached on a first-pitch bunt single. On the next pitch Mangum outright stole second base, so Lowe’s drive to center let him take third. Humphreys cashed it in with a single to center for the 2-1 lead.
For a Friday night you just have to manufacture runs,” Mangum said. “Moving 90 feet is a key deal on SEC weekends.”
Or even moving 270 feet. In the Bulldog seventh with Rebel reliever Will Stokes throwing, CF Jacob Robson reached on a wide throw by the third baseman. Stokes made repeated pick moves and finally timed one right, with Robson well off the bag. But the throw was wrong, missing his first baseman and caroming into rightfield.
Robson didn’t just go to second, or stop at third. He never slowed, and slid behind a tag attempt. “I was thinking if he scores, I’ve seen it all!” said Hudson.
Ole Miss began with Friday ace Brady Bramlett. If he couldn’t match Hudson’s velocity the righthander could mix and move. After allowing a first-inning run he was hit only twice again through five. Bramlett (4-2) was lifted in the sixth with one out and after Humphreys’ second RBI. With Mangum on third and one out it ought have been a pitch-around situation since Humphreys was 2-of-2 already.
“I didn’t know what they were going to do,” Humphreys said. “I let it play out. He threw a fastball and I said I guess he’s going to come at me. He left one up and luckily I got a good swing on it.”
Bramlett allowed two runs on six hits with no walks and two strikeouts.
Hudson did lose just a little velocity around 100 pitches but still sat another ten-straight after stranding two in his fifth. Even a leadoff single in the ninth didn’t budge his coaches, and nobody was really working in the bullpen either. That runner was erased on a one-out double play to end the contest.
“It’s always going to be a fight in the SEC on a Friday night, everybody knows that,” Humphreys said. “Thank goodness for Dakota going out there tonight, just shoving it in the strike zone. The guy is unbelievable.”
Hudson (4-1) said he’d shortened his stroke during the week’s preparation. Also, against a Rebel order with right-side punch he didn’t just rely on heat. “I really focused on getting my breaking ball in the zone, I felt that kind of opened it up and helped me shut down the righties.”
Humphreys had half of State’s six base hits going 3-of-4 with two RBI, and only a great diving grab by OM centerfielder Kyle Watson spoiled a perfect plate evening. Mangum was 2-of-4 with two runs. Ole Miss had the four hits scattered around the order. Every safety by both teams was a single and a damp evening with balls dying short of the track.
For the first time since 2012 the Bulldogs (19-7-1, 5-2 SEC) opened a series with the rivals successfully. Their win combined with losses by Alabama and Texas A&M put State atop the Western Division. The Rebels are 20-6, 2-5.
The 2:00 Saturday rematch has RHP Austin Sexton (2-1, 3.72) on the mound for State while Rebel righty Chad Smith (2-2, 4.80) gets his game-two chance to square the series.