After three weekends in a row against premier opponents, Mississippi State’s baseball team has proven itself to be a contender, able to seemingly beat anyone at any time. As head coach John Cohen has showcased a team with veteran production and young talent, perhaps the most impressive performances have come from a star only on the field once each week: junior right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson.
The preseason All-American has not only met the high expectations national outlets had for him entering his third year, but to this point, he’s exceeded them.
“A potential 1-1 candidate in the draft,” D-1 Baseball’s Kendall Rogers wrote after Hudson’s nine-inning gem in MSU’s win over No. 2 Vanderbilt last Friday, “and a true ace for the Bulldogs.”
Hudson, named the SEC Pitcher of the Week for his performance, dominated that night against one of the best teams in the country, not allowing a single earned run and only giving up four hits as he struck out eight batters over the course of his nine innings of work. The lengthy performance – 126 pitches – was particularly impressive for a power pitcher whose fastball clocked in near 96 MPH, while the cutter one national reporter dubbed “devastating” came in as fast as 92 MPH.
Those on the outside may have been surprised by his stamina and determination, but to those in his dugout, it’s what they now expect from their ace.
“Gosh, 100 pitches in, he’s throwing 94 miles per hour,” Cohen remarked after Friday’s game. “When he’s doing that and he’s in rhythm, I think he’s one of the premier guys in the entire country.”
Hudson has gone over 100 pitches now in his last three starts, all against ranked teams. Cohen and pitching coach Wes Johnson have learned to trust him more and more with each outing.
“We’ve had the conversation multiple times,” Hudson told the SEC Network during Saturday’s game, “and every time they ask me about it, I just tell them I’m going back out. If I’m anything short of 120, I’m gonna go out there and do what I can for the team.”
“He wants that baseball,” Cohen confirmed. “It doesn’t matter if he’s 100 pitches in or 10, he wants the baseball. Not sure that was always the case with him, but he’s that confident now.”
That confidence has been an important factor for Hudson, and one that’s easy to see when he takes the mound. The junior captain has a team-leading 40 strikeouts in his five starts, totaling 32.2 innings. With a 1.38 ERA, he’s only allowing opponents a .172 batting average in 2016.
But perhaps even more impressive has been his performance when playing against top opponents. In three-straight starts against ranked teams, including two against teams in the Top-10, Hudson has been lights out. Against UCLA, Oregon and Vanderbilt in successive weeks, he’s only allowed three earned runs, while he’s struck out 23 batters. In 351 total pitches, he’s only given up 13 hits. Hudson has proven himself a top-flight pitcher not just in the SEC, but in the country, one of two Bulldogs named a national player of the week this season.
His quick ascension to stardom this season has come, in Cohen’s belief, as a result of Hudson’s time in the Cape Cod summer baseball league back in the offseason. It was there that Cohen believes his star developed the now-obvious confidence he hadn’t always exhibited previously.
Explained Cohen, “I think when you go up there and you say, ‘You know what, I’m facing some of the best players in the country and I’m having success against them, maybe I’ve put other people on a pedestal. Maybe I’m as good as any of these guys.’ And I think he really believes that. He should. Because he is as good as anybody out there. He’s a different competitor. He’s really matured.”
Whether it’s summer experiences in the Cape, offseason training with Johnson or just the seizing of an opportunity, it’s worked out well for Hudson. And in his mind, he’s only just begun.