By JOEL COLEMAN
For No. 4 Mississippi State to have a chance to win the Southeastern Conference championship this weekend, the first step is to take care of business against the Arkansas Razorbacks. So far, so good for the Bulldogs.
Behind another dominating performance from ace Dakota Hudson, MSU cruised to a 7-0 victory over Arkansas on Thursday night at Dudy Noble Field. The win keeps the Bulldogs (38-14-1, 19-9) firmly in the hunt for the SEC crown with just two days left in the regular season.
“For now, we’ve just got to take care of our own business and I thought our kids did a great job on the bench (Thursday),” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “I didn’t hear anybody talking about any of the other stuff or running back to check their phones. I think they just wanted to win this game and whatever happens, happens.”
MSU’s title hopes this weekend are contingent on the outcomes of several other games. Unable to control what happens elsewhere, the Bulldogs simply did their part to stay firmly in the hunt with Thursday’s win.
Hudson led the charge as he notched his second straight complete game shutout and third overall complete game this season. The junior right-hander allowed just five hits and two walks as he notched 10 strikeouts.
“I feel like it’s getting easier for me to just go and play catch out there,” Hudson said. “At this point in the year, I feel like I can compete with every pitch and that’s what is getting me through these games.”
While Hudson shut down the Razorbacks (26-27, 7-21), State’s offense pounded out 12 total hits as the Bulldogs blew the game open.
Jake Mangum had a perfect 5-for-5 night to raise his batting average to .423 for the season, the highest mark in the SEC.
“It’s just see the ball and hit the ball,” Mangum said of his approach. “I just try to hit the ball wherever it is pitched. That’s different for every pitcher you face, but our scouting reports are good and it gives us something to look for each at-bat.”
Jack Kruger and Nathaniel Lowe added two hits apiece for MSU and six different Bulldogs notched an RBI in the game.
The first of those runs driven in came in the bottom of the first. After Mississippi State loaded the bases with one out, Brent Rooker came through with a sacrifice fly to put the Bulldogs up 1-0.
MSU added three more in the third. With Mangum on third base, Kruger grounded to third, but the throw home was wild and Mangum touched home for the 2-0 lead. Gavin Collins added a sacrifice fly and Jacob Robson had a run-scoring infield single later in the inning to make it 4-0.
In the fifth, Collins led off the frame with his first career triple. He’d later score on a wild pitch to increase MSU’s advantage to 5-0.
The Bulldogs capped the scoring in the sixth. John Holland led off the inning with a single. He stole second base immediately afterwards, but two different throwing errors on the play allowed Holland to come all the way around to score.
Before the inning was through, Lowe added an RBI double.
That was plenty for Hudson to close out the game with little stress.
“I felt like he was a guy that really took the mound and just took control of the ballgame,” Cohen said of Hudson. “In the end, you get a little nervous because he threw 120 pitches, but he really wanted (to finish the game). He was touching 94 and 96 miles per hour at the end so we didn’t feel like he’d really lost anything.”
Hudson and the Bulldogs’ success means MSU can come to the park Friday with title hopes still intact. Austin Sexton will be on the mound for State as the Bulldogs plan to keep taking care of things on their end while not worrying about any outside factors.
“We’ll check the other scores on Saturday,” Cohen said. “Whatever happens, happens. Our kids are going to compete their tails off and we’re just going to control what we can control.”