By JOEL COLEMAN
On Sunday night, just prior to midnight at Dudy Noble Field, Mississippi State pitcher Ryan Rigby fielded a sharply-hit ball and flipped it to first base. It was the final out of the Starkville Regional and cemented MSU’s advancement to its sixth Super Regional in school history.
For some teams, such an occasion would have called for an elaborate celebration. For the Bulldogs, a few high-fives were just fine as the team says its sights are set much higher.
“As a team, we were really excited to win,” MSU sophomore designated hitter Brent Rooker said. “This was a big regional with three really good teams in it. We had to play really well to win it and we did that, but we talked after the game and we have a bigger mission. Winning a regional was not our goal at the beginning of the year. Winning a national championship is, and we haven’t accomplished that yet. When we accomplish that goal, we’ll dog pile and celebrate.”
The Bulldogs will take their next step towards their ultimate goal this weekend when they host a Super Regional in Starkville for only the second time in school history. To get to that point, MSU earned it as they toppled each of the three teams that were in town for the Starkville Regional. State defeated Southeast Missouri and ace left-hander Joey Lucchesi 9-5 on Friday. The Bulldogs followed that up with a 4-1 victory over pitching-rich Cal State Fullerton on Saturday. Then on Sunday, after a rain delay that lasted two hours and ten minutes, Zac Houston and Ryan Rigby combined to shut out the potent offense of Louisiana Tech as the Bulldogs claimed a 4-0 win.
At that point, State had earned the right to celebrate. Instead, the Bulldogs chose to save that for later on down the road.
“I was so proud of the fact that they handled everything in such a businesslike fashion when they won this thing,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “They know that they have a bigger goal in mind. That’s not to say this isn’t a big deal, because it is a big deal. Winning the SEC is a big deal. Winning a regional against these teams is a big deal, but they are really set on their goals and it is fun to watch them accomplish them.”
As State moves on in the postseason, the Bulldogs continue to be fueled by the failures of last season when the club didn’t even make the SEC Tournament, much less the NCAA Tournament.
“The core of our team, a lot of the guys were a part of that team last year and that helped us grow and get to this point,” Rooker said. “We know what it feels like to not succeed and that helps us succeed even more and helps the success be even sweeter.”
The Bulldogs have already come a long way since turning a 24-30 overall record a year ago into a 44-16-1 mark so far this season, but they’re still reaching for more.
“When you have a nucleus of guys that have a chip on their shoulder and got punched in the mouth a little bit a year ago, that’s a dangerous group of kids,” Cohen said. “They want this bad.”
Time will tell if State chooses to enjoy themselves a little more should the Bulldogs win their Super Regional this weekend. Odds are though, there won’t be a grand celebration unless Mississippi State sees its goals realized with a national championship.
“We’re really excited and we’re really happy (winning the Starkville Regional), but we’re not done yet,” Rooker said.
Hudson named NCBWA Pitcher of the Month
Dakota Hudson has added another impressive line to his resume.
Mississippi State’s ace right-hander was named the National Pitcher of the Month for May by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association on Monday.
In May, the junior hurler posted a 3-1 record and an earned run average of 0.86 in 31 1/3 innings pitched. In Hudson’s final two regular season appearances, he delivered back-to-back complete game shutouts to help MSU claim its first Southeastern Conference regular season championship in 27 years.
Hudson has received multiple awards in the last couple of weeks. In addition to his honor from the NCBWA, Hudson has recently been named a semifinalist for the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award. He was also named a Second Team All-American selection by Collegiate Baseball.
Hudson earned these accolades with an overall record of 9-4 for the year. He boasts a 2.62 ERA and has allowed only 99 hits and 34 walks in 106 2/3 innings. Along the way, Hudson has notched 109 strikeouts which ties him with former MSU pitcher Eric DuBose for ninth on State’s single-season strikeout list.
Humphreys’ hand not broken
Mississippi State received a bit of good news on the status of Reid Humphreys on Monday. The junior outfielder and relief pitcher, who was hit by a pitch on his right hand during an at-bat in Sunday night’s Starkville Regional-clinching win, learned his hand was not broken.
Cohen confirmed to the Starkville Daily News that Humphreys’ hand, which is his throwing hand, is only sore. Humphreys’ status for this weekend’s Super Regional is still unknown at this point.
Humphreys has been a key contributor for the Bulldogs both at the plate and on the mound this season. The junior has hit at a .317 clip with five homers and 44 RBI.
As a pitcher, Humphreys leads MSU with seven saves.
Six Bulldogs named to All-Tournament Team
Six Mississippi State players were named to the All-Tournament team following the conclusion of the Starkville Regional late Sunday.
Humphreys, Rooker, catcher Jack Kruger, shortstop Ryan Gridley, outfielder Jake Mangum and pitcher Zac Houston were all named to the 11-member squad.
Rooker was named the event’s Most Outstanding Player.
The six MSU players were joined on the team by Louisiana Tech first baseman Cody Daigle, Southeast Missouri second baseman Trevor Ezell, Cal State Fullerton third baseman Jake Pavletich, Louisiana Tech outfielder J.D. Perry and Louisiana Tech pitcher Phillip Diehl.