A modern day warrior
Mean, mean stride
Today’s Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride
Though his mind is not for rent
Don’t put him down as arrogant
His reserve, a quiet defense
Riding out the day’s events
– Rush, Tom Sawyer
Before Austin Sexton had even taken a step toward the dugout, the crowd was on its feet to give the junior pitcher a standing ovation. Often praised for being among the more baseball-savvy fans around, the 10,000-plus cheering for the Bulldogs stood as one as soon as the reliever – Blake Smith – trotted out of the bullpen.
The crowd on hand knew what it had just seen, understood the fight in every single one of Sexton’s 93 pitches. His line was impressive, certainly, only allowing four hits and one run through 28 batters faced as he notched another win. But more worthy of awe was, as his head coach described it, the battle of every inning, every batter and every pitch on a sticky Saturday night in Starkville.
A Saturday night so hot, a humidity so oppressive that Sexton had to retreat indoors between innings to cool off and keep his body in peak condition to continue fighting a strong, determined and crafty Cal State Fullerton lineup pitch after pitch. MSU head coach John Cohen admitted his star pitcher “battled through some adversity,” some of his own and some as a result of occasional defensive mistakes behind him.
But Sexton, who confidently claimed after the game that he never wore down mentally, never conceded defeat. Every blow he took glanced off his shoulders, the shoulders carrying the hopes of an entire team and 10,000 fans hoping and praying he would hold on. And hold on he did.
CSF coach Rick Vanderhook couldn’t hide his respect for the junior pitcher when speaking in the post-game press conference.
“I thought Sexton pitched good, but better than that, he made pitches when he had to,” Vanderhook said. “I thought we had him on the ropes multiple times, and he worked his way out of it. Our philosophy is, if you put a pitcher on the ropes three times, he’s gonna break once. He didn’t break.”
Much of that resilience is Sexton’s mental toughness, as well as the physical stamina to last through such a draining game. Much of it, too, is more direct and simple – Sexton’s change-up was working for him, and when that happens, he’s hard to stop.
Cohen, multiple times, has remarked that it’s a pitch an opposing batter can be told is coming and he still won’t be able to hit the ball. And there were plenty of times when Titans’ batters thought they knew what was coming. Plenty more when, whether they knew what was coming or not, they did manage to hit the ball.
But of the 12 batters to put the ball into play, only one managed to score. 11 of the 12, Vanderhook noted with great lament, were left on base. Potential heroes rendered casualties of Sexton’s assault from the mound.
In such tense moments, in high stakes baseball situations, Sexton was the model of cool-under-pressure, even if sweat from the Mississippi heat was constantly soaking into the brim of his hat. With little room for mistakes, he ensured there were none.
“Every single pitch Austin threw tonight had a purpose,” said freshman outfielder Jake Mangum, the person with perhaps the best view of his teammate’s performance. “Every pitch, the crowd was into it. Every pitch, the crowd was behind us. It really did change the game.”
“He’s such a mature kid,” Cohen observed. “He can do anything … He just doesn’t make two bad pitches in a row. That’s a great quality to have at this level.”
Ask Sexton, however, and the explanation is a bit more simple, far less outwardly proud. Whatever factors played a part, whatever talents made it possible are only pieces of his singular goal.
“I needed to come out here and give my team a chance to win,” he said.
As he so often wills himself to do, Sexton got what he wanted. When he left the mound, MSU had the lead. When he left the stadium, they had the win.
Exit the warrior
Today’s Tom Sawyer
He gets high on you
And the energy you trade
He gets right on to the friction of the day