Hustled into the game with loaded bases, two outs, and Mississippi State protecting a 12-8 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Diamond Dog leftfielder showed Tiger batters something they could not have scouted. “Dakota Hudson showed me how to throw his cutter about a day-and-a-half ago,” Humphreys said. “That was really the main pitch I was throwing the whole time.”
Not all the time. Humphreys began with fastballs of 93 and 94 mph against the first Tiger faced, both for strike. Then on 2-2, Cole Freeman never had a chance of hitting the cutter. He fanned, three runners were left un-scored, and Mississippi State was able to go on and complete a series-opening victory at Baton Rouge.
The win also pulled State (26-12-1) up and the Tigers (26-12) down into a tie for second in the SEC West at 9-7 each. Texas A&M pulled a game farther in front in the Division with a win over Alabama.
Despite the final margin, and despite never trailing, the visiting Bulldogs were also never safely in charge. Not even after 1B Nathaniel Lowe struck first-inning lightning with a grand slam. Or, when having held a 4-4 tie through middle innings State jumped to a 9-4 lead. LSU chopped most of that away with a grand slam of their own by Antoine Duplantis in the seventh.
So when reliever RHP Ryan Rigby loaded everything up in the eighth with three hit batsmen, Humphreys got the call. Never mind he had not been to the bullpen. Coach John Cohen knew it was the right time and place with the bottom of LSU’s order up.
“I just thought that was the biggest sequence of pitches we threw all night,” Cohens said. “And knowing he was going to face some lefthander in the next inning, he made sure he got that one righthhander at the bottom of the order.”
No real warm-up? No problem, said Humphreys. “I guess the adrenalin of this stadium helped me get ready quicker. But I was ready to go, they kind of gave me a heads-up a little before. I’m just glad to come in and get it done.”
After leaving the sacks stuffed in the eighth with that well-timed cutter, Humphreys cut down the whole top of LSU’s order in the ninth for his fourth save. In the process he made a winner of his midweek-mentor.
RHP Hudson (5-3) did not exactly roar back from consecutive Friday league losses. But he gave State just what was needed this game-one. Hudson worked, battled really, through 6.1 grueling innings against a Tiger order that didn’t miss many pitches. Or open ground for that matter. Sequences of seeing-eye singles and 12 total hits allowed would have rattled many a SEC ace.
Not Hudson this night. “Dakota kept ramming the ball in the strike zone for the most part and forcing the issue,” Cohen said. “And the later he got into the game the better he was.” Hudson was charged with seven runs, walking three and only fanning three.
Fortunately Bulldog batters gave him leads, or at least a tie, to work with his whole stint. They jumped on LSU starter Jared Poche early, and later often enough. “We knew he was going to be a good strike thrower and if he got rolling there was a really good chance they could win,” Lowe said. “We had to get him out of rhythm and do our thing.”
Lowe did his thing in a big first-inning way, aided by a Tiger defensive gaffe. With two Dogs on and one out, RF Brent Rooker bounced to the shortstop. His toss to the middle bag was on-target and just dropped, leaving the inning alive and bases loaded. Lowe used it well, turning on his first pitch and lining it over rightfield.
“I’ve been working on that all year,” said Lowe of attacking immediately. “And I got the right pitch and put the right swing on it. I was happy it worked out.”
Poche adapted though, getting away from fastballs and using changeups and breaking balls. The result was four scoreless turns while the Tigers caught up. A two-out bullet off the glove of 3B Gavin Collins cracked a second-inning door as LSU followed that single with three more bouncers through the infield and two runs. Hudson had to leave the bases loaded that turn; then in the third it was more of the same as grounders found gaps.
The Tigers tied it up with a squeeze bunt by Michael Papierski plating Bryce Jordan. Not ideal, yet Hudson toughed it out again with a pair of fly balls to hold the deadlock. CF Jake Mangum and C Elih Marrero kept it tied in the fourth as Greg Deichman was coming home from second on a Beau Jordan double.
Mangum’s rifle-throw was caught and Marrero got the tag down in emphatic enough fashion to earn an out call, though replay looked otherwise. Hudson had to strand two more Tigers he’d walked-on in the fifth.
He returned with a 7-4 lead. After SS Ryan Gridley bunted a couple of Dogs into scoring position and with two outs 2B Hunter Stovall came through. He was 1-for-last-19 turns but drove a double to right-center for two RBI. 3B Gavin Collins made it a three-run lead with his double plating Stovall, though Mangum was out at home on a relay throw.
In their seventh the Bulldogs expanded, very fortunately as it played out. Poche was replaced and righthander Austin Bane was no improvement as he loaded the bases. DH Jack Kruger’s short fly ball let Humphreys score from third base; and Gridley made it 9-4 with a single to score Lowe.
It looked like a lead to last, until Hudson ran out of steam and loaded up the bases for the top of LSU’s order. That was Duplantis and he went out to rightfield for his own slam, off Rigby’s second pitch. Rigby could stay with bases clear and get the other two outs.
And, the Bulldogs could un-do most of the damage in their eighth. Tiger reliever Caleb Gilbert got a strikeout of Stovall to begin but the ball got loose and the Bulldog reached. Mangum bunted him over which seemed for naught with two outs. But Humphreys laid-off to work a walk before Rooker dropped a short drive in centerfield for the RBI.
OF Mike Smith came in to run for Rooker and indeed did. Because Lowe lashed a double scoring Humphreys and him for what became the margin of victory.
Poche (5-4) took the loss with seven runs on eight hits, two walks and two strikeouts. Both teams had 13 base hits with Lowe leading everyone. He was 3-of-4, scored three times with six RBI. Mangum was 2-of-3 and Rooker 2-of-5.
For all the offensive production, it was hard work on the mound the Bulldogs pointed to as key to victory. Humphreys’ relief work got the buzz, but Hudson earned his win the hardest way. “Dakota is going to put it in the zone and if finds its way through every now and then,” Lowe said. “But he did a great job.”
After a couple of Friday losses, “I’m just pleased with our kids, just to keep battling,” Cohen said. I don’t think at any point in time our kids said man, this isn’t going our way. They said we’re going to keep scoring and competing our tails off. And we got some balls to fall with two outs and two strikes.”
The teams return for Saturday’s 6:30 start time. State will send RHP Austin Sexton (3-2, 3.96) back to the hill, a week after a hamstring pull cut short his losing stint against Texas A&M. Cohen thinks the junior will be ready for the challenge.
“He did a lot of coverage stuff in BP today. It wasn’t a secret he pulled his hamstring, they might try to bunt on him and do some things. But I think he’s well enough, and we need him.”
LSU will counter with righthander Alex Lange (4-2, 4.88).