(Photo: Dakota Hudson) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Thursday SEC Tournament Notebook and Numbers

The West’s wildest baseball rivals have played 16 times in various SEC Tournament formats and venues. Mississippi State goes into today with a 8-7-1 lead over LSU. That tie really wasn’t; it was a suspended game in the 1990 event, also the first played in Hoover Met.

State had lost to LSU in the winners bracket; battled back to Sunday’s round and beaten the Tigers to force another game. LSU jumped out to an early lead as weather approached, and when lightning was seen in the distance—way in the distance as we who were there remember—play halted. The rain was light but showed little hint of stopping and forecasts weren’t really available.

So after over an hours’ wait both teams asked and the SEC agreed to suspend play. Both programs knew they were hosting six-team Regionals the next weekend and were ready to head home. So for the first SEC Tourney held in Hoover there were dual champions.

Since then there have been other meetings of the two in Hoover, and State leads 5-3 (and -1 if you will). In 2001 the Bulldogs beat the Bengals to take the tourney championship, as they had done in 1987 at Athens. In 2012, State’s last SEC Tourney title, the Bulldogs had to beat LSU twice along the way but topped Vanderbilt in the finals.

So other than obvious fan interest and ease of access for Bulldogs to Hoover, there’s historical reason for MSU baseball to want the Tourney to remain at the Met. The SEC’s presidents and ADs are due to decide whether to renew the contract with Hoover (expires this year) or accept bids from Memphis or Nashville to move the event. It has been played in Hoover 19 times and annually since 1998.

 

*Mississippi State will start RHP Dakota Hudson (9-3, 2.29) for the winners bracket game with LSU. He has seen the Tigers once already this season. In fact, this will be the sixth time Hudson has taken the hill against a LSU team.

As a 2014 freshman he started in Baton Rouge and took a loss on just 2.2 innings, with five runs on six hits. It was his first SEC start.

Last year Hudson was a reliever and threw in all three LSU games, a combined 5.0 innings with two no decisions and State’s only win in the ’15 series. That was on a single relief inning with a strikeout and nothing else.

Hudson returned to the starting role this year with a vengeance. His April 22 outing at Baton Rouge wasn’t statistically his finest hour, what with 12 hits and seven runs over the 6.1 innings. But most all the hits were seeing-eye variety and all were ground balls as the Tigers did not batter Hudson’s stuff too badly. And he got tons of offensive support as State won the Friday game 12-8.

Coach John Cohen has said Hudson is getting a Thursday start to stay on-cycle for the upcoming NCAA Regional, which will likely begin next Friday. Hudson threw a week ago Thursday, going the complete route in beating Arkansas in a shutout nine innings with five hits and 10 strikeouts.

However, Cohen also said that even with a whole week-plus ahead to rest, there is a limit on Hudson’s evening. It will either be innings, which he said ‘six or seven’ was the goal; or 100 pitches.

 

*Speaking of the century… Hudson ended his regular season with 101 strikeouts, in 98.1 innings. He began tournament season 5th in SEC total strikeouts.

With two more strikeouts, Hudson will have fanned the sixth-most batters by a Bulldog in a season, surpassing 102 by Frank Montgomery in 1962. Next in front is the 115 by Jeff Brantley in 1984. The record? That is almost certainly out of reach as Eric DuBose sat down 174 in 1996.

 

*Before coming to Hoover, Cohen had also speculated how RHP Austin Sexton would be worked this week. If State beats Florida there will be no Friday game for the Bulldogs, so Sexton would likely start Saturday…the normal slot for the junior in normal Friday-to-Sunday series.

Hudson did toss last week’s Friday game against Arkansas, going 7.0 innings. Sexton is not a shut-down sort of pitcher of course, and averages a lot of allowed hits. Fortunately few end up scoring against him, and Sexton does not issue walks often. In his last three SEC wins he has struck out 23 against just four free passes.

If State loses to LSU, and has to play tomorrow, it’s also probable Sexton would start to stay on-cycle as well.

 

*With a 2-of-4 performance in his first college tournament game, OF Jake Mangum has raised his batting average to .429. He had closed the regular season averaging .457 in the last ten games and taken over the SEC batting lead.

His competition has been Texas A&M infielder Boomer White, who up to two weeks ago was leading the league. Then White struggled in the final regular season series and fell to .410 as Mangum blew by.

White has played two games so far at Hoover, and is a combined 2-of-8. That has dropped him to .407 now, though A&M survived its Thursday elimination game beating South Carolina and has at least one more game before the NCAAs.

All post-season game count towards SEC average and total statistics, so this batting race is headed into a hot June.

 

*Mangum is well on his way to being the fourth true freshman to lead State in batting average. He’ll join Mike Kelly 1976, Rafael Palmeiro 1983, and Brandon Turner in 2007. The hits record for a freshman?

That’ll take some doing as Palmeiro had 95 hits as a rookie.

 

*1B Nathaniel Lowe has fallen into a mini-slump. After ripping the ball 11-of-16 in a four-game stretch with 8 RBI and 7 runs, he went 0-for-5 in the regular season finale against Arkansas.

Now he’s opened his tournament season by going 0-for-4 against Alabama. It is the first time since March 16-18 (Oral Roberts, Vanderbilt) Lowe has gone hitless in consecutive games.

Lowe still leads the teams in games with a hit (43, compared to 39 for Mangum) and in hits-per-game.

 

*As noted in last night’s feature, 3B Gavin Collins owns an 18-game hitting streak. And he just enjoyed his first 4-of-4 evening at the plate, too, beating up on Alabama pitching and hitting his 10th home run of the season.

Comparing homer totals isn’t useful any more after the repeated changes to college bats over recent decades. Hunter Renfroe had 16 shots in 2013, and in the live-bat era Connor Powers had 19 for the most of Cohen’s tenure.

In his hitting streak Collins is now 29-of-71, or .408 for the 18 games. His overall average is just over .330 at last, though Collins offsets mere average with both RBI and clutch contacts. He drove in half of State’s runs in the 4-1 win Wednesday.


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