“They said it was a tie event. So I guess I’ve got to get me some dress clothes I guess.”
Hudson might also prepare an acceptance speech, just in case. Because for nine innings he un-dressed Arkansas batters in a 7-0 shutout. It was his third full-route win of the season, a second-straight by shutout, and made the righthander 9-3 on a special junior season.
“I just feel it’s getting easier just to play catch out there, from start to finish,” he said.
Hudson got to finish what he started by allowing just five Razorback hits with a couple of walks. He also struck out ten, giving him 101 fannings for 100.1 innings. And of course, Hudson got another SEC series started well for Mississippi State (38-14-1, 19-9 SEC).
With the win the Bulldogs remained tied with Texas A&M—who defeated Ole Miss--for first in the Western Division, and second behind Florida in the overall percentage standings. The Gators (18-8) had their game at LSU halted early by rain and will resume Friday.
Coach John Cohen was nearly as happy with the way his team handled the championship-stretch tensions as with a runaway victory. “I didn’t hear anybody talking about any of that, I didn’t see anybody running back to check their phones. I think they wanted to win this baseball game.”
Hudson definitely wanted to get the last out again. Only after a two-out walk in the Arkansas ninth was there any MSU movement. “He didn’t say anything before I went out, but I knew that guy was my last batter,” Hudson said. “(C Jack) Kruger said we both know this is the last guy.”
Hudson got him, too, and with his 10th strikeout.
“You start getting a little nervous being at 120 pitches because we’re going to need him in post-season,” Cohen said. “But he really wanted it, he’s touching 94-96 at the end so we didn’t feel he’d lost anything.”
Unlike other complete-game wins Hudson didn’t just blow batters away with velocity. He produced ground ball outs routinely, only allowed a few real drives, and rarely faced real trouble.
“The biggest thing early for me is I had a lot of sink on my fastball. Knowing what I had going out into the game it got me where I could settle in and just get every pitch going.”
For two innings every pitch ended up bounced or lined to shortstop as SS Ryan Gridley literally handled the first six outs. “Gridley back there, I just know he can make the plays!” Hudson said. He did have a pair of Razorbacks reach in that opening inning on an infield single and error, but they were outed on caught-stealing and double-play.
Hudson’s biggest challenge was in the sixth with a one-out single and walk. He just coaxed a grounder that was turned into another twin-killing.
“Obviously Dakota took the mound and took control of the ball game,” Cohen said.
By that point the Bulldog offense had provided plenty support. “It was a good game,” RF Jake Mangum said. “Any time Dakota is on the mound and we’re 4-0 in the fourth inning you feel comfortable.”
Mangum was ridiculously comfortable at the plate. The freshman went 5-of-5, all singles, and scored three times.
“See the ball, hit the ball,” he shrugged. “I guess hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Mangum accounted for the first Bulldog run, in the opening inning. He reached on an infield single and worked around to third base so DH Brent Rooker could plate him on a fly ball. Arkansas starter Dominic Taccolini stranded two others that inning and was still down just 1-0 into the third when Mangum was back up to open.
He singled again and made third base on a combined steal and catcher throwing error. Mangum took off for home on a chopper by Kruger that third baseman Clark Eagan fielded and threw in time. He was just off-target, drilling Mangum in the back as the Bulldog made it 2-0.
1B Nate Lowe nearly left the yard and did bank a drive off the left-centerfield fence for a double. Kruger had to wait up and only made third base, but scored easily on a fly ball by 3B Gavin Collins. With two outs CF Jacob Robson grounded to the off-side of shortstop and deep enough that there was no chance a throw could beat him to first base. Lowe scored on the infield single.
Collins led off the Bulldog fifth with a triple, his first career three-bagger. Two outs later and with two on a 3-1 Taccolini pitch not only walked LF Reid Humphreys but skipped the mitt so Collins could score.
State kept padding, too. In the sixth 2B John Holland singled to lead off, and was running as Mangum covered with a swing. The throw to second sailed so Holland got up and got going, then watched the centerfielder’s throw miss everything at third base. He scored on the error, and Mangum was plated as Lowe doubled to the track.
That mercifully ended Taccolini’s long evening at 5.1 innings. Jake Reindi entered to end the sixth, with both Doug Willey and Anthony Dahl taking care of the next two turns each.
Arkansas’ best chance to score was in their seventh as Eagan was on second for a Chad Sparnberger single. The throw-in from Humphreys was lax and Eagan tried to come home. Catcher Kruger dashed out to recover the loose ball so Hudson could cover home, take the flip, and make the tag to preserve his own shutout.
Arkansas’ five hits were split among as many batters, and they were charged with five errors which meant four of State’s runs were un-earned. Taccolini (5-5) allowed 11 of the 12 total hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
Kruger and Lowe each had two base hits, as well as a RBI and run each. “It’s really comforting to know when you get on base there’s a lot of guys that can knock you in,” Mangum said. The freshman walked off Dudy Noble Field as the SEC’s leading batter, too, now at .423. Texas A&M’s Boomer White went 0-of-3 and slipped to .410.
Mangum of course is also a Ferriss Trophy finalist along with Hudson and Humprheys. The rookie said he does own his own tie. So, “I’m sure someone on the team’s got a tie for Dakota. We’ve got two more games to worry about.”
And, a championship chase that only tightens more. By the time Friday’s 6:30 game starts the Bulldogs should know how Florida-LSU came out of their game-one. Their second game begins at 7:00, while game-two of the Aggies and Rebels is 6:30.
Not, said Cohen, that he’s updating any standings. No not even as his team is trying to take the program’s first outright SEC title since 1989 when he was a player.
“I’m going to check scores on Saturday. For now we’ve got to take care of our own business.”
Mississippi State will start RHP Austin Sexton (6-2, 3.69.) Arkansas (26-26, 7-21 SEC) has not listed a starter yet.