By JOEL COLEMAN
The Mississippi State starting pitching staff is making amends for the struggles of opening weekend. After no starter went deeper than five innings into a game last weekend, Austin Sexton followed up Dakota Hudson’s quality start on Friday night with a complete game shutout as Mississippi State beat Nicholls State 5-0 in the first of two MSU games Saturday at Dudy Noble Field.
Sexton allowed just three hits, walked only one and struck out 11 in notching MSU’s first complete game shutout since Ross Mitchell blanked Auburn in May of 2014.
“Sexton did a great job for us,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “He threw a ton of strikes and got us going in the right direction. He really wanted to finish that ballgame. That’s the Sexton that we saw in the summer and the Cape Cod League. That’s the Sexton that we saw in the fall and really what we had seen in the spring until his first start. It’s really promising for him. He’s a very good college pitcher, especially when he’s throwing three pitches for strikes.”
Ryan Gridley had a pair of RBIs to pace MSU offensively, though it took the Bulldogs until the middle innings to get things going.
In the bottom of the sixth with the game still scoreless, Gavin Collins and Hunter Stovall led off the frame with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. Two batters later, Elih Marrero drove in Collins with an RBI double ahead of a Gridley squeeze bunt that plated Stovall for a 2-0 Mississippi State lead.
The Bulldogs added on in the eighth inning. With one out, Stovall singled and Cody Brown walked setting up a pair of run-scoring singles from Gridley and Jacob Robson. Gridley would come around to score later in the inning on a wild pitch.
Up 5-0 heading to the ninth, Sexton was granted the chance to finish what he started.
“(MSU pitching coach Wes Johnson) actually pulled me aside and told me to look him in the eyes and tell him I wanted to throw the ninth inning,” Sexton said. “Of course I said yes. I was rolling there. I was only at 85 pitches so I definitely wanted to go back out there.”
Sexton retired Nicholls State in order in the ninth to polish off the win.
Mississippi State 4, UMass Lowell 2
Daniel Brown followed Sexton’s gem with a strong pitching performance of his own. The junior lefty went 5 2/3 scoreless innings to pick up the win as Mississippi State won its second game of the day to improve to 5-2 overall for the year.
Brown allowed five hits, walking one and striking out four before turning things over to the MSU bullpen with the Bulldogs out in front 3-0 in the sixth.
“I felt good,” Brown said. “I tried to establish the fastball early. I just trusted my defense to do a great job behind me and got some quick innings early so the offense could get in and start putting up runs.”
MSU gave Brown his first bit of run support in the third when Brent Rooker’s sacrifice fly scored Robson. The Bulldogs added to the lead in the fourth with a two-run homer from Gridley.
UMass Lowell cut into the MSU lead in the seventh against Bulldogs reliever Jacob Billingsley when Chris Sharpe led off with a double and Steve Passatempo followed with an RBI single.
Mississippi State got the run back in the bottom of the eighth on Robson’s run-scoring triple as the Bulldogs took a 4-1 edge to the ninth.
In the final frame, Reid Humphreys made his collegiate pitching debut and allowed an unearned run, but picked up the save to give MSU its fourth-straight victory.
The Bulldogs look to extend their winning streak to five on Sunday in a 3:30 p.m. rematch against Nicholls State. Junior right-hander Zac Houston is scheduled to pitch for MSU.