By JOEL COLEMAN
With perfect weather and a close game, it was a classic opening day scene for baseball at Dudy Noble Field on Friday evening. Then came the seventh inning and it all turned sour for Mississippi State.
With the score tied 2-2 in the seventh, Florida Atlantic put up an eight-spot in the frame on the way to topping MSU 10-6 in front of 9,413 fans, the largest opening-day crowd in Mississippi State history.
“When you walk seven (total batters in a game), you’re pretty much going to give up a big inning somewhere in there,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “That’s exactly what happened to our club.”
FAU (2-0) batted around in the decisive inning, sending 12 total men to the plate and taking advantage of the inexperience of a quartet of pitchers making their MSU debuts.
Freshmen Kale Breaux, Ethan Small and Noah Hughes along with sophomore Jacob Billingsley were all on the wrong end of the FAU rally in the seventh as the Bulldogs allowed six hits and three walks while the MSU defense committed a pair of errors in the inning.
“We just didn’t do a good job,” Cohen said. “We walked two guys to begin that inning and just didn’t do a very good job of corralling what they were trying to do.”
Mississippi State (0-1) wasted a gritty pitching performance from starter Dakota Hudson. Hudson, expected to anchor the Bulldog rotation this spring, struggled through the first inning as FAU plated the game’s first two runs. That was all the damage the Owls could incur on Hudson though as the junior right-hander recovered to throw four scoreless frames following his troublesome opening inning.
“I thought Dakota had a rough first inning because he put a ton of pressure on himself,” Cohen said. “But he really fought back.”
Hudson ended his day allowing just the two runs on five hits in five innings, striking out a career-high eight batters and walking three.
“I just felt like I was able to catch (FAU’s) adjustments and then I was able to make my own based off of what I was seeing with their swings,” Hudson said. “They were really comfortable in the first inning and I was able to keep them off balance a little bit after that.”
Despite trailing for much of the night, Mississippi State battled back a pair of times in the game before ultimately falling short. Down 2-0 after the first, the Bulldogs cut the Owls’ lead in half in the third with a run-scoring double from Jack Kruger. In the fifth, MSU tied it at two apiece on a RBI single from Nathaniel Lowe.
Once FAU blew the game open in the seventh, Mississippi State again staged a rally.
Reid Humphreys doubled home a run in the bottom of the inning to make it 10-3.
In the eighth, Luke Alexander cranked a solo home run and Kruger added his second RBI double.
In the ninth, Hunter Stovall drove in the game’s final run.
Jacob Robson grounded out to conclude the contest with the potential tying run standing in the on-deck circle.
“That showed we have a lot of heart and determination,” Robson said of the late fight from MSU. “We’re not content with losing and no matter what the score is, we’re going to keep going and keep trying to tack on runs.”
Kruger, Robson, Humphreys and Ryan Gridley each finished with three-hit days for the Bulldogs.
MSU totaled 17 hits for the ballgame, but left 13 total runners on base.
“We had 17 hits and could have had 30 because I counted 15 hard hits that we got out on,” Cohen said. “(FAU) happened to be standing where we hit balls hard and we weren’t standing in those spots when they did.”
MSU continues its opening weekend on Saturday with a pair of games at Dudy Noble Field. First, the Bulldogs face South Dakota State at noon before a rematch against FAU at 3:30 p.m. Junior right-hander Austin Sexton and junior lefty Daniel Brown are each scheduled to start on the mound for MSU, though Cohen says it hasn’t been determined which game each pitcher will start.