Bulldog starting pitchers impress in weekend sweep

Following an iffy opening weekend, Mississippi State’s starting pitchers bounced back with a performance not only improved from their first outing, but one marked as one of the best collective weekends in some time for the Bulldogs. Sweeping the four-game weekend against UMASS-Lowell and Nicholls State, MSU recorded shutouts in two of the four games, only allowing four runs over the course of the weekend. For a frame of a reference, MSU didn’t record a single shutout in the 2015 season.

Austin Sexton pitching in Saturday's doubleheader

Austin Sexton pitching in Saturday’s doubleheader

The surge was led by the starting pitchers, none of whom allowed a run in a combined 26.2 innings of work. Head coach John Cohen was particularly pleased with the group and their improvements under the guidance of new pitching coach Wes Johnson.

“We knew our starters had to come out and perform better this weekend. Each one of them made some adjustments, and you could tell the type of stuff that each one has,” Cohen said. “I think Wes had a great week with them. All of them were disappointed with how they threw the opening weekend. I think they all wanted to do better. They just all commanded the baseball a lot better than they did in week one.”

The bounce-back was important not just for wins at the moment, but to give MSU something to build on going forward as the final two weekends of non-conference play coming include the 2016 Dodger Stadium Classic (games against UCLA, USC and Oklahoma in Los Angeles this weekend) and a home series against a strong Oregon club the next weekend.

While Cohen’s club will have to narrow their starters down to three for those weekends, the last two weeks of four games each have afforded he and Johnson the opportunity to use more arms and see more of their guys in the starting role.

For junior centerfielder Jacob Robson, the performance was welcomed, as he said the better a pitching staff does, the more it allows the rest of the team to focus on the offensive side of the game. Robson knows the talents of each pitcher as well as any and expressed pride in how his teammates did over the course of the weekend.

It started Friday with junior Dakota Hudson, whose final line came to six innings pitched, giving up zero runs and only two hits with nine strikeouts.

“Dakota, great job on Friday,” Robson observed. “He was untouchable.”

For Saturday’s doubleheader, junior Austin Sexton led it off with one of the best outings of his career, throwing a complete-game shutout, striking out 11 batters and only allowing three hits.

“Sexton, one of the best performances I’ve seen since being here,” Robson said. “Not a surprise. Super talented guy. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.”

Junior Daniel Brown followed in game two Saturday with 5.2 innings pitched, striking out four and giving up five hits and zero runs.

“Danny Brown, huge improvement from last year,” Robson said. “I had the opportunity to sort of observe how his summer was going, because he played up in the Cape with me. Different team, but I got to watch him sort of show everybody what he’s made of. He’s improved so much. He’s my roommate. Great competitor and he showed it.”

Zac Houston pitching against Nicholls State on Sunday

Zac Houston pitching against Nicholls State on Sunday

Then, on Sunday. Junior Zac Houston closed out the weekend sweep with a career-best outing, striking out 10 and only allowing three hits in six innings of shutout work.

“I thought Houston made a huge improvement from last week,” Robson sad. “He’s a great competitor and is very talented. He’s got velocity and has great control. He proved that he can sort of eat up innings.”

From this weekend forward, the competition for starting spots and the competition in opposing dugouts will increase significantly, but after such a strong week, MSU feels good about where they stand now.

“I thought we did amazing, especially coming off last weekend when we weren’t really where we wanted to be,” Houston said following Sunday’s finale. “I think we really turned it around this weekend. Everybody went out and did what they needed to do for us to have a chance to win.”

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