By JOEL COLEMAN
On Friday night, Austin Sexton sat beside Mississippi State head coach John Cohen and charted pitches as his good friend Dakota Hudson shut down Ole Miss and led MSU to a series-opening win. Saturday, Hudson and Sexton swapped places, but the results were very much the same.
Like Hudson the night before, Sexton hurled a complete game on Saturday as No. 12 Mississippi State claimed a 6-2 victory over No. 11 Ole Miss at Dudy Noble Field.
In front of 11,515 fans, the 15th largest crowd in school history, Sexton filled up the strike zone, throwing 78 of his 111 pitches for strikes and not walking a batter as he allowed just four hits and a pair of unearned runs while striking out eight.
“I just wanted to get strike one,” Sexton said. “I saw what Dakota did (on Friday) and I tried to go out there and do the same thing and get early action and luckily they put the ball in play a lot and put it right to our guys.”
For much of the game, Sexton cruised as he sat down a string of 12 straight Ole Miss batters over the course of the middle innings to push the Bulldogs towards the win. The only speed bump the junior righty hit came in the eighth inning when the Rebels got three of their four hits and took advantage of a pair of MSU miscues in the field to plate their two runs.
“Even though he’s a little upset and angry that runs are scoring in that situation as anybody would be, he’s still challenging the strike zone knowing that we’re going to get outs and knowing that he can depend on his defense and knowing that his changeup and breaking ball were so good that he can just get outs by himself,” Cohen said.
The Mississippi State offense had already provided the Bulldogs with plenty of room for error prior to Ole Miss’ eighth-inning rally. MSU scored a run in the first inning on a solo home run by Jake Mangum off of Ole Miss starter Chad Smith. MSU then plated three more in the second off Smith on back-to-back RBI singles by Ryan Gridley and Jacob Robson before Mangum was plunked by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Smith ultimately suffered the loss for Ole Miss.
Mississippi State added to its lead in the seventh. Following a one-out single from Robson, Mangum drove in his third run of the day with a double.
“Mangum was great,” Cohen said. “He hits a line drive out of the ballpark. He hangs in there and gets (hit by a pitch). That’s another RBI. That’s big. That’s really advanced for a freshman.
“He’s hitting balls hard almost every time he steps up there.”
Reid Humphreys added an RBI double of his own two batters after Mangum to cap MSU’s scoring and give Sexton more than enough breathing room to close things out.
The win puts MSU on the cusp of a series sweep over its rival. Twice already this season, the Bulldogs have won the first two games of an SEC series only to lose in the finale. Cohen is hoping MSU capitalizes on its situation this time around as the series against Ole Miss concludes Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
“We have this opportunity again to sweep a team and we need to take advantage of that opportunity because they don’t come around very often,” Cohen said.