Bulldogs blank WKU 12-0 in season opener

STARKVILLE - Mississippi State's Brian LaNinfa knew how to make a solid first impression.<P> LaNinfa had two hits, including a three-run home run, as the Bulldogs routed Western Kentucky 12-0 in college baseball action Friday at Dudy Noble Field.

A crowd of 1,964 watched as the Bulldogs won their season opener and also threw the second shutout on the opening day of the MSU Classic. In game one Friday, Illinois also shut out Western Kentucky, winning by a 4-0 count.

MSU pounded out 20 hits - matching the most in any game from last season. The Bulldogs had 20 hits in a 17-7 win over Mississippi Valley State last season.

"It was a nice day and a good season opener," MSU coach Ron Polk said. "We swung the bats well. It's nice to give the pitchers a cushion to work with. After you do that, all you do is throw strikes and come after the hitters."

LaNinfa, a red-shirt freshman from Venice, Fla., drew the start at designated hitter. He hit the Bulldogs only home run in the season opener.

"We feel really good about winning the first game," LaNinfa said. "I'm glad I was able to contribute. We've been working hard and are looking forward to having a good season. Today, everybody hit the ball and hopefully, it will carry over. The guys played with a lot of confidence."

The offense was more than enough for a trio of MSU pitchers.

Jamie Gant (1-0) worked the first five innings to pick up the win. Making his first career starter, Gant allowed five hits with one walk and six strikeouts. In relief, Jon Crosby and Brett Cleveland each threw two innings. The trio combined to scatter 10 hits and also worked out of a couple of tight spots. For the contest, the Hilltoppers stranded 11 runners.

For Crosby, a transfer from Georgia Tech, it was a successful first outing of the season. Crosby suffered a freak injury, taking a line drive off his cheek bone during summer league play.

"The pitchers threw strikes," Polk said. "For the most part, we were working with 1-2 counts throughout the day. We allowed some hits but were able to work through those things and get the shutout."

State (1-0) scored in seven of eight at-bats in the contest.

An RBI single by Craig Tatum put State ahead 1-0 in the first inning. A two-run double by Nettleton's Jeffery Rea ran the lead the 3-0 in the second inning. LaNinfa's three-run homer highlighted a five-run third inning. MSU padded the lead with single runs in the fourth, fifth, sixth and eighth innings.

Brad Corley, Brad Jones and Thomas Berkery each had a team-high three hits for MSU. Berkery had a pair of doubles in his hit total. Steve Gendron, Tatum and LaNinfa also had multiple hits.

"It was a good way to start the season," said Tatum, a red-shirt sophomore from Hattiesburg said. "We had been practicing for a long time. It's always good to get the first game under the belt. A lot of guys hit the ball hard and all of our pitchers threw strikes."

For Western Kentucky (3-6), third baseman Tim Grogan had three hits. Matt Johnston and Cary Page each had a pair of hits. None of WKU's 10 hits were for extra bases.

Starting pitcher Greg Durr (0-1) was chased in the third inning. Durr allowed eight hits and five earned runs while taking the loss. Ryan Landrum and Adam Prida threw in relief for the Hilltoppers.

MSU veteran sportscaster Jack Cristil helped the Diamond Dogs usher in their 114th season of baseball Friday, delivering the ceremonial first pitch at sun-drenched Dudy Noble Field.

The MSU Challenge resumes Saturday at 11 a.m. with Western Kentucky meeting Illinois again. The Bulldogs then face Illinois in the 3 p.m. contest. MSU and Illinois then rematch in the classic finale at noon Sunday. Junior right-hander Alan Johnson is MSU's scheduled starting pitcher Saturday.

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Mississippi State 125 111 01x 12-20-0

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