STARKVILLE – Mississippi State players, coaches and fans knew the stakes entering Saturday’s regular season finale.
A win over Arkansas would give the Bulldogs a share of the SEC Championship and could win the league outright if Ole Miss defeated Texas A&M.
Moments after MSU took a 6-2 lead, the crowd at Dudy Noble Field erupted in a raucous applause cluing the players on the field that the title was theirs for the taking after the Rebels’ 3-2 victory in College Station.
The Diamond Dogs held their own celebration on the field a few innings later after finishing off Arkansas 9-4 to claim their 11th SEC Championship.
“This is the result of a ton of work by a group of kids who really put a chip on their shoulder this year,” said MSU coach John Cohen. “They just competed in everything they did. They competed in the weight room, competed in practice and competed in a really tough SEC.”
State is the first team in conference history to go from finishing last one season to winning the league outright in the next.
“Everything we did from the end of last year to now had led to this moment,” said MSU center fielder Jacob Robson. “With that being said, we’re not done yet. Our ultimate goal is to win the whole thing. But to go from last to first in one year is almost unheard of and we’re on top of the world right now.”
Mississippi State receives a first round bye and the top seed in the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs will take on the Alabama-Kentucky winner Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. on SEC Network.
Saturday’s win was the 11th straight for the Diamond Dogs (40-14-1, 21-9 SEC) and completed their third straight sweep.
“For three straight weekends we knew what was at stake,” said MSU third baseman Gavin Collins, who had an RBI double on Saturday. “We just had to win and keep winning. That’s what we did. This team is so resilient.”
MSU collected a dozen hits led by Robson and Jack Kruger each going 3-for-4 with Kruger driving in two runs and Robson adding one RBI.
Jake Mangum was 3-for-5 with three singles to close out the regular season as the SEC batting champion with a .427 average.
Ryan Rigby earned the win in relief to improve to 5-1 on the year. Rigby hurled 4 2/3 shutout innings with six strikeouts and allowed just two hits.
Starter Konnor Pilkington lasted just 2 1/3 innings after giving up five hits including a two-run homer to Clark Eagan in the first frame. Daniel Brown and Blake Smith finished out the game on the mound for the Bulldogs.
Arkansas finishes its season at 7-23 in conference play and 26-29 overall, the first losing season in 26 years of coaching for Dave Van Horn.