STARKVILLE — Dakota Hudson didn’t walk off the mound in Oxford with a good feeling last year.
The Mississippi State baseball team blew a five-run ninth inning lead to Ole Miss and Hudson allowed the winning run to score in the 10th. The loss epitomized how last season went for the Bulldogs, who finished 24-30 and missed the postseason. It also was the first time Hudson said he faced adversity like that. He used the experience as motivation over the summer in the Cape Cod League, where he worked to perfect his craft in hopes of becoming the Bulldogs’ Friday night starting pitcher.
Hudson showed Friday night how much progress he has made in the first of two dominating pitching performances for No. 5 MSU.
On Friday, Hudson threw his first complete game in a 3-1 victory against No. 13 Ole Miss in Game 1 of the Southeastern Conference series at Dudy Noble Field.
“(It feels) a lot better with a win,” Hudson said. “It was just fun to be out there.”
On Saturday, junior right-hander Austin Sexton delivered another complete game in a 6-2 victory that helped MSU (20-7, 6-2 SEC) clinch the three-game series.
MSU will go for the sweep at 1:30 p.m. today (SEC Network+).
Sexton allowed two runs, both unearned, on four hits. He walked none and struck out eight. Last season, he pitched 8 1/3 innings in the finale against Ole Miss.
Last season, the Bulldogs lost 8-7 in the series finale and Hudson pitched 2/3 of an inning. He allowed Colby Bortles to tie the game at 7 with a two-run single and allowed Tate Blackman to single home the winning run.
MSU coach John Cohen said Hudson learned from that outing and has earned a starting role on the staff thanks to hard work in the summer that carried over into the fall. But Cohen remembers getting a call from a friend, a cross-checker for a Major League Baseball organization, who told him Hudson was developing a cutter and looking sharp. That’s when he realized Hudson could be the ace of the staff.
“I think when you’re allowed to go off on your own and play against very good competition and have a great experience in the summer I think you can really find yourself,” Cohen said. “I think Dakota is a classic example of that. I think there was no question in our mind he needed to go out and find some things out about himself this summer, and that’s exactly what happened.”
The junior right-hander, who said his transformation in the summer was like “night and day,” allowed an unearned run on four hits. The Dunlap, Tennessee, native hasn’t allowed an earned run in 30 2/3 innings. He didn’t issue a walk and struck out a career-high 11. Hudson said he focused on getting his breaking ball into the zone and it worked against left- and right-handers.
Hudson ran into trouble in the first inning. He hit leadoff batter and former New Hope High School standout Will Golsan, who later scored on a single by J.B. Woodman to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead. On the single, Errol Robinson, who reached on an error, tried to go first to third but was cut down by right fielder Jake Mangum for the first out. Woodman was later caught stealing by catcher Elih Marrero. Hudson then struck out Bortles to escape the jam.
“I think it was huge for Dakota,” Cohen said. “I think early on he was probably trying to do a little bit too much. Anytime you get the first out at third base, that’s the cardinal rule, and it’s a huge momentum changer for the defense.”
Hudson said he felt like the two defensive plays settled him down. The strikeout began a stretch of 10-straight retired by Hudson. He had six 1-2-3 innings and retired another 10-straight from the fifth to the eighth.
Hudson, who has given up three runs in three SEC games, said he has developed a different presence on the mound.
“I feel like a lot of it’s come through experience,” Hudson said. “I’ve been in almost every situation as a collegiate pitcher. I just feel like I can take a deep breath and know that I’ve been through it all before.”
The Bulldogs tied the game on a single by Reid Humphreys, who was 3-for-4 with two RBIs, in the first. Humphreys gave MSU a 2-1 lead on a RBI single in the sixth. Mangum, who was 2-for-4, scored both runs. Mangum hit a solo home run Saturday to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead in the first.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Mangum said. “He goes in every Friday night and just shows us he is the Friday night ace. What he’s done this year is insane, I know he works hard.”
Jacob Robson scored from first on a failed pickoff attempt in the seventh to give Hudson a cushion for the final two innings.
Hudson, who was projected to go ninth the Detroit Tigers in the First-Year Major League Baseball Player Draft by D1Baseball.com earlier this week, got a flyout and a 6-4-3 double play in the ninth to collect the win.
Cohen called the performance “special” and one of the top-10 Friday night performances in MSU history. He said there was no taking the ball away from Hudson in the ninth.
After what happened in Oxford last May, Cohen said Hudson was anxious even though he had a serene confidence.
“You could just tell all week long how excited he was to pitch against Ole Miss,” Cohen said. “He didn’t throw his best baseball last year when we were in Oxford. He wanted the baseball and he just had this personality this week, that tone to him that said, ‘I want this. Give me the baseball and something special’s going to happen.'”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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