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Comeback Kid - McNeese's Hudgens returns to the mound

May 05, 2023 02:28PM ● By Jim Gazzolo
By Jim Gazzolo

On the outside, Bryson Hudgens looks nothing like he did when he first came to McNeese State.

He’s changed even more on the inside.

Hudgens has been through a lot since he arrived on campus in August of 2020. 

The right-handed pitcher out of Weatherford Community College in Texas was expecting big things as a Cowboy and the Cowboys were expecting big things from him.

Even after the storms of that year tore apart McNeese’s baseball facilities, Hudgens stayed true to the program. His dream of pitching for the Pokes and professionally had not been damaged.

“It was a lot to go through,” said Hudgens of the two storms that greeted his arrival.

Nobody knew then that his long journey at McNeese would have many more roadblocks ahead.

After a solid season in 2021 when the 6-foot-4 Hudgens posted a 2-3 record with a 3.19 earned run average in eight starts and 13 appearances, including pitching in the Fort Worth Regional, hopes were high.

However, a knee injury slowed his preparation time for the upcoming season. Then, he returned to throw just 3.1 innings in the second game of the 2022 season at Alabama before injuring his elbow.

“I came back too fast and didn’t have my legs yet,” said Hudgens. “I was back throwing just 28 days after knee surgery. That put too much strain on my arm.”

That was 15 months ago, and the dreaded Tommy John surgery. For some college pitchers might be the end of the dream, but not Hudgens. 

After a lot of hard work and long days he returned last weekend to pitch one inning in a start at Incarnate Word, 409 days after his surgery.

“Just being back on the mound I was overcome with emotions,” said Hudgens. “It felt great to be back out there with my teammates. I didn’t really feel like I was part of the team until then.”

Hudgens is a part of the Cowboys hopes for a late-season push.

“I’m really happy for him,” said McNeese head coach. “You see him day in and day out putting in the work. He stuck with us through some really hard times.

“It’s big for us to have another arm. He is a different pitcher than he was before.”

Hudgens will make his return to the mound at Joe Miller Ballpark this weekend against Lamar. He will start either Saturday or Sunday after his one inning last week when he gave up a pair of unearned runs but also picked up a strike out.

“That strike out felt great,” said Hudgens. “The elbow feels great. I’m ready to go again.”

Hudgens will still be on a pitch count this weekend.

“If it was up to me, I would go out there as long as I can, but we will be smart about it,” he said. “The pitch limit is not up to me.”

The recovery wasn’t a lot of fun, Hudgens admitted. However, he said he always felt like he would be back.

“I didn’t suffer any setbacks,” he said. “The first six months was really hard. Not being with the guys on road trips was tough.”

Since he last pitched for the Pokes, Hudgens has lost 30 pounds and has gained on his fastball. He was throwing 88-92 before the surgery and is up to 95 miles per hour on his fastball now.

That, he hopes, will help get some looks from professional scouts still.

“I got one true shot left,” said Hudgens. “The dream is still the same.”

When he does return to his home mound, the redshirt junior will have more than his teammates behind him. 

“I’m going to have about 30 people at the game,” said Hudgens. “I’m going to have to find some tickets.”

Considering all he has had to do to get back on the mound that should not be a problem.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics. He is also the host of Poke Nation on CBS-Lake Charles