Diamond Dogs open season Friday against WKU

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Sun-filled skies and warming temperatures are in the Friday forecast as No. 29 Mississippi State opens its 2004 baseball campaign against Western Kentucky (3-4) at Dudy Noble Field. The game marks MSU's first baseball meeting with the Hilltoppers (3-4), who open play in the MSU challenge with an 11 a.m. game against the University of Illinois.

The Bulldogs have tabbed sophomore right-hander Jamie Gant for opening day starting pitching chores. Gant, who posted a 6-1 record and a team-leading 1.15 earned run average in 21 relief appearances last season, is making his first career start. The Winona, Miss., product finished his rookie season with a flurry, registering three wins and a save in his final four appearances and earned all-tournament team designation at both the SEC Tournament and NCAA Starkville Regional.

"These first three games will be a good test for our ball club," said Mississippi State skipper Ron Polk. "Western Kentucky already has seven games under its belt and both teams have veteran coaches - Robert 'Itch' Jones at Illinois and Joel Murrie at Western Kentucky."

State takes on Illinois Saturday at 3 p.m. and closes out its first weekend of competition against Illinois Sunday at Noon.

Polk is beginning is his 25th season as MSU head coach. He enters the season with a 1,198-578-2 career coaching mark over 30 seasons and is 36 wins away from his 1,000th coaching win at Mississippi State. He ranks seventh in wins among active NCAA Division I coaches and 14th on Division I baseball's all-time wins list.

Veteran sportscaster Jack Cristil, who recently completed his 51st season as the radio voice of the football Bulldogs, will help usher in the new season by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. Cristil, a native of Memphis, Tenn., began his highly-decorated sports broadcasting career in professional baseball's Cotton States League.

The Bulldogs return six starting position players and seven pitchers from last year's 42-20-1 edition that advanced to the finals of the 2003 NCAA Starkville Regional held at Dudy Noble Field. Infielders Steve Gendron and Tyler Scarbrough and pitcher Jeff Lacher are the lone seniors on the 41-man MSU roster. Thirty-one of those players are either freshmen or sophomores.

"Technically, we are young this year," said Polk. "But some of the sophomores are third-year guys who started last year and are expected to play major roles for us again this year."

General admission tickets for Friday's doubleheader game will be sold at the stadium beginning at 9:30 a.m. Admission to both the Illinois-Western Kentucky and the MSU-Illinois games is included with each daily ticket. There will be a break of at least 45 minutes between the two games.


Friday, February 27
11 a.m. ‹ Illinois vs. Western Kentucky
3 p.m. ‹ Mississippi State vs. Western Kentucky

Saturday, February 28
11 a.m. ‹ Western Kentucky vs. Illinois
3 p.m. ‹ Mississippi State vs. Illinois

Sunday, February 29
Noon ‹ Mississippi State vs. Illinois

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