Bulldogs Clinch Series Behind Second Complete-Game Performance

Considering how bitter the memory was, Austin Sexton was just that eager now to be reminded of that lost Saturday in Oxford. “I was hoping some one was going to ask that!” Because, suddenly it’s all sweet for the Diamond Dog starter.

In his first shot at Ole Miss since the infamous afternoon, Sexton finished what he started. Mississippi State’s righthander rolled through nine complete innings for a 6-2 victory, a win which clinched the series. The Bulldogs are 20-7-1 and at 6-2 SEC stay at the top of the Western Division. The Rebels are 20-7, 2-6. It is State’s first series win in the rivalry since 2012.

Sexton’s full-stint followed a similar Friday effort from RHP Dakota Hudson, who also threw all nine turns in a 3-1 victory. It was a win which absolved some of Hudson’s own memories as he was the extra-inning loser in that 2015 meltdown.

But it was Sexton who took it harder. He worked into the ninth inning trying to salvage a series split, before handing a lead over to others. Never mind they lost it, Sexton felt the responsibility…for over ten months now. So knowing he’d have the ball for game-two this time?

“Any time you play Ole Miss it’s a little extra added on,” Sexton said. “But at the same time motivation from last year, the way that game ended…man, it drove me nuts. And I told a bunch of people I was wanting this game and was ready for it.”

He was. Was he ever.

Sexton (3-1) hung seven zeroes on the top line while his offense built a 6-0 lead, four of those scores coming in the first two frames for early pitching margin. Sexton did not need it until late.

“I saw what Dakota did and I tried to do the same thing, get early action and luckily they put the ball in play a lot and right to our guys.”

He didn’t just put the ball in play but in the strike zone, fanning eight of 34 Rebels faced against four hits. “His changeup and breaking ball were just so good today that he can get outs by himself,” Coach John Cohen said. That was key, since Sexton doesn’t have the velocity Hudson brings. “He throws like 98, I throw like 88!” Sexton said. Yet this change of pace worked just fine and maybe was even better with a stiff breeze blowing out to rightfield.

Bulldog batters made a quick impression on Rebel starter Chad Smith (2-3). Certainly RF Jake Mangum did. As the second to swing, he lined a drive that carried over rightfield for the freshman’s first college home run.

In the second C Elih Marrero and LF Cody Brown both singled their ways on and a one-out walk of 2B John Holland stuffed the sacks. SS Ryan Gridley punched one RBI single, and order-topper CF Jacob Robson did the same for the 3-1 lead. Mangum didn’t have to swing for his second RBI, he just took a hard Smith pitch in the side for a free base to push another across.

That also finished Smith, with Brady Fiegl entering to roll a double-play.

Still a 4-0 margin was more than enough for Sexton. After stranding a pair in his fourth, neither having reached on a hit, he shot down the next eleven Rebels. That last out came with the expanded lead, too. In the MSU seventh Robson singled and scored all the way from first on a Mangum double. Though, the rookie tried to make it a triple and was thrown-out at third base. So, a base hit by 1B Nate Lowe didn’t produce a RBI.

It wasn’t a problem because DH Reid Humphreys doubled-in Lowe. “The guys put up six runs for me,” Sexton said. “All around it was a good job.”

Well, almost so. Because the big challenge was, as it usually seems for State, in the top of an eighth inning. With one Rebel on and one out, Connor Cloyd lifted a high drive to right-centerfield. Robson had a bead on it only to have Mangum charge into him, rattling the ball free. J.B. Woodman singled Cloyd in, then Tate Blackmon popped up just on the right-side grass.

Holland simply lost it in the high April sky, the ball falling ten feet behind him for a RBI single. With two on and the pitch count climbing, Sexton bore-downand fanned Colby Bortles on a good slider.

“That was huge,” Sexton said. Huger to him was going back out to finish things. “I just looked Coach (Wes) Johnson in the eye and told him I wanted the ball. He said, OK.”

Three up and three down later Sexton had his third complete game. Nearly a shutout, too.

“He deserved better,” Cohen said. Still neither run was earned and Sexton continued State’s streak of no-walk innings on the week, now at 29.2 in three games-plus.

The Bulldogs had a dozen hits with two each from Robson, Mangum, Lowe, and Gridley. Mangum drove in half the team’s runs as six different Dogs scored. Ole Miss had four hits with Blackman going 2-of-4 with the only RBI. Smith lasted 1.1 innings in the loss with four runs on five hits, a walk and strikeout. Feigl worked 5.1 with two runs on six hits, and Connor Green took care of the last 1.1 innings.

The 11,515 attendance is being checked as possibly the largest DNF crowd not for a post-season or Super Weekend game. “Man, what an incredible atmosphere for college baseball,” Cohen said. “When you make this kind of atmosphere it’s not difficult to get excited about playing baseball at Mississippi State.”

More exciting in the short-term is a completely-intact bullpen and choice of starters to throw at a Rebel team now battling to avoid the brooms. It’s a familiar situation so far for State though, after taking the first two at Vanderbilt and from Georgia. Each time game-three got away.

“We have this opportunity again to sweep a team,” Cohen said. “And we need to take advantage because they don’t come around very often.” State was to pick a Sunday starter sometime in the evening, while Ole Miss has booked righthander Sean Johnson (3-0, 1.96).

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