Thursday was fun indeed. Mississippi State’s ace dominated Missouri for eight-plus innings to get the SEC series started right, with an 8-2 victory. The Bulldogs (31-14-1, 13-9) moved a half-game in front of Ole Miss for second in the SEC West, behind Division leader Texas A&M which opened their own series beating Vanderbilt 1-0.
Hudson had won his last two starts, road games at LSU and Alabama. He just needed more pitches and more run support to succeed. In his first home-field appearance since April 1, Hudson was back in full-ace-form.
“I felt I was on track, I just had to adjust my game and pitch a little bit differently.”
Different was better. Hudson (7-3) had near-complete control of the evening. After giving up a lone run in the second inning, he rolled up six-straight scoreless frames. Missouri mustered seven hits off him and ended up with two total runs, one unearned.
But eleven Tigers struck out in the process, ten of them swinging. Hudson did not walk any of the 31 he faced. And maybe most impressively, he rolled eleven ground-ball outs. Just two true fly balls were hit off Hudson. As a sharp breeze was blowing out to right and Missouri had five lefthanders and a switch-hitter in their order, this was a big deal indeed.
“It was a mix of stuff,” Hudson said. “I pretty much threw everything I had at them. Locating in the zone, being able to mix speeds and get to the floor when I needed to was the big thing against Missouri.”
From his vantage point, 1B Nathaniel Lowe enjoyed the show. “It was fun. Dakota is getting back to where he needs to be and we’re glad he put out a good effort tonight. And then of course 19 hits was a lot of fun, too.”
Yes, there was the offense. Bulldogs battered UM starter Reggie McClain mercilessly, collective 15 of the hits and seven runs at the righthander’s expense. McClain (4-3) is a legitimate series-starter but this night his changeups and off-speeds and such were fodder for feasting.
Even when the Bulldogs wasted a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity in their first inning, there was no doubt State would hit McClain. “We knew he was going to have some good stuff,” Lowe said. “And the shadows were kind of tough. But I was sitting on a changeup for a while, I hit the changeup out. We did a good job grinding ABs and not trying to do too much.”
Lowe’s hit-out was a two-run homer in the fifth inning, his fourth shot of the season one of two longballs by Bulldogs. Lowe led the attack from the #3 slot, going 5-of-5 with three RBI and a run scored. He tied for most hits by a SEC swinger so far this season.
This was a strong bounce-back from going 1-of-7 in last Saturday’s doubleheader at Alabama. “I’d changed a little bit of mechanical stuff,” Lowe said. “Where I was doing a toe-tap I went back to the leg-lift tonight and got some balls on the barrel and was happy with the result.”
The first Bulldog RBI also came on a homer. DH Brent Rooker took McClain’s first pitch of the second inning straight into the wind and cleared leftfield on a line. “That was awesome,” Lowe said. The solo shot tied it up and a two-out single by RF Jake Mangum put State ahead to stay as he drove in SS Ryan Gridley.
Missouri did take a brief lead in the top of that inning. Zach Lavy led off with a ground-ball single, and a strikeout later Lowe had to knock down a ground-shot by Brett Bond to keep it a single. When Mangum bobbled the ball just a bit Lavy was able to make it to third base. So Brian Sharp scored him with a high bouncer Lowe had to wait on, then settle for an out at first.
That was enough margin for Hudson. He did need to strand a pair in the third inning with a swinging strikeout of cleanup-Tiger Lavy. That began an eight-out tear four strikeouts before consecutive one-out singles in the Tiger sixth. Hudson rolled a double-play to end that threat and sat the next six as well.
Meanwhile State stretched out the lead. C Jack Kruger’s drive went off UM leftfielder Trey Harris’ glove for a double, and Lowe followed that with a drive nobody could catch or much chase. 3B Gavin Collins followed with a single and with two down Rooker reached on a chopper up the third base line. CF Jacob Robson, in his third-game back since a hand injury, bounced a base hit up the middle to plate Collins for the 5-1 margin.
State added to the lead with a sixth-inning run. Mangum, Kruger, and Lowe all singled in order with Lowe getting his third RBI. It was more of the same in the seventh, this time with the bottom of the order doing the deed. Robson reached on an infield single, got to second base on a ground ball and stole third outright. A single by Holland was good for the 7-1 lead.
It also finished McClain, with righty Cole Bartlett entering to give up Mangum’s fourth single. No more damage was done that inning, but in the eighth Tiger designated hitter Sharp went to the mound. Lowe greeted him with his fifth hit, a double to left-center, and took second on a wild Sharp pitch. Collins collected the RBI with a fly ball to right.
Yes, Hudson wanted to finish what he start. In the dugout Coach John Cohen said if any Tiger reached, it was time to take a bow. With one out Lavy got his third hit of the evening and pitching coach Wes Johnson came to the mound to crowd displeasure.
“I said they’re booing you coach, there’s a reason for that!” Hudson joked. “No, my pitch count as getting up. That was just the plan.”
Blake Smith did give up the unearned run charged to Hudson as new 3B Luke Alexander’s throwing error allowed Lavy to come around.
Cohen was pleased how his hitters attacked McClain looking for line-drives and ground-ball hits, sweetened by those two contacts that left the yard. Mangum was 4-of-5 with a RBI and a run, and Kruger 2-of-5 in the two-hole. “The first three guys in our order got on base eleven times.” But lower in the order Rooker and Robson were a combined 5-of-10, too.
Of course Hudson was the story, again. “He’s been giving up some hits on some ground balls over the last three weeks,” Cohen said. Not this time, as Hudson sent bouncers into Bulldog gloves. It wasn’t just his trademark fastball at work, either.
“The depth of his cutter was different, it had a different type of break,” Cohen said. “When you can come back with 93 to 95 at times, and he located on both sides of the plate.”
Friday’s 7:00 rematch will be a role-reversal. Missouri (24-23, 7-15 SEC) will put the hard-throwing righty on the hill in Tanner Houck (4-4, 3.12). For State it will be changeup specialist RHP Austin Sexton (4-2, 3.69).
Spring graduation is being held at Humphrey Coliseum next door at 6:00, so fans planning to make baseball should plan around traffic jams all over campus. Regular baseball parking policies and spaces do not apply Friday.