MSU coach and players talk their win

Mississippi State head baseball coach Ron Polk and MSU players Craig Tatum, Jamie Gant and Brian LaNinfa talked about their 12-0 victory over Western Kentucky.

MSU Head Coach Ron Polk

Talk about how your team's victory in their season opener.
"You are always concerned in game one because of opening day jitters. Everybody has them. The people in the stands probably have them too because they aren't sure what the makeup of the ball club will be.

"We swung the bats well and got good pitching. We scored early and often. From that point on, it became an easy outing for our pitchers. But tomorrow is another day and we could certainly use those 12 runs somewhere down the season. They aren't all going to be this easy."

It has to give your team some confidence going into the game Saturday against a pretty good Illinois team.
"Yeah, we are going to have to play well the next two days. Illinois is a good team with good athletes. We are going to have to use 9 or 10 pitchers this weekend. But that was the plan going in. We don't want to throw a pitcher more than 60 to 65 pitches this early. But we have enough pitchers and good pitching depth.

"We are going to have to score some runs (Saturday), but, hopefully, Alan Johnson gives us a good outing. And Jeff Lacher gives us a good outing on Sunday."

How will you determine your starting lineup this year? Will it depend on whether a righthander or lefthander is throwing?
"Yeah, right, left, gut feeling. We went with a five-man lefthanded lineup (today) and we will probably stay with the same group tomorrow.

"We get Bunky Kateon back it's going to complicate things even more. We have a lot of depth, but we aren't going to go through the season with everybody staying healthy. I would like to think that is going to happen, but I think this ball club has a lot of depth at a lot of positions."

What did you learn about your ball club today that you didn't already know?
"Nothing, really. We have been playing intersquad games. I know we are competitive, we play hard and we put the ball in play. We are not going to be a home run (hitting) team, although we hit one and should have hit two (today). The keys to our ball club's success is going to be pitching, defense and timely hitting, but that has always been the case."


Sophomore catcher Craig Tatum

When did you guys see the starting lineup?
"I saw it when I got here. We didn't know who was playing."

Was it a surprise to you to see so many guys playing different positions and a few freshmen starting?
"We knew some people were going to play but we didn't know where they were going to play. We pretty much knew Jeffrey Rea was going to play second, Thomas (Berkery) was going to play third and Steve (Gendron) would play short. We didn't know who was going to play first and who was going to DH. Centerfield was kind of open. Whatever (Coach Polk) did today worked."

Talk about the play of the team today.
"The start of the year last year we lost the first game, so to come out and get a win today was good. Everybody got hits their first at-bat. The freshmen played good. (True freshman second baseman) Jeffrey Rea played real good. (True freshman infielder Michael) Rutledge got in and played good. Our pitching did good. Jamie (Gant) wasn't trying to overthrow and threw within himself, getting ground balls and getting outs."

It seemed like Jamie had some trouble in the first inning. Do you think it was opening day jitters?
"This was the first game he has started since high school, so I thought he did good coming out and pounding the strike zone. Last year, he tried to overthrow a lot. This year he came out and pounded the strike zone."

How have you been feeling with the bat lately?
"Actually, going into today I haven't been swinging the bat very good. I was kind of glad to get off on a good start."

It looked like you guys were in mid-season form today.
"We looked good. I thought we swung the bats pretty good considering that we haven't been hitting the ball that great in scrimmage games. Jeffrey Rea came out and got us going with a walk. And everybody else followed him hitting the ball. I also thought it was good for Jeffrey Rea to get a hit being that he is a true freshman."


Sophomore pitcher Jamie Gant

When was the last time you started a game?
"It has been three years. This was my first start since my senior year in high school."

Were you a little nervous at the start of the game?
"I was a little nervous at first because I'm not quite used to that routine. Last year I was used to getting ready quick and coming in, but this year I have to pace myself a little more. I wasn't quite as efficient as I would like to be, but I was glad to get that first (start) under my belt."

When did you feel comfortable on the mound?
"When I threw to my first batter I thought he had hit a home run. But when he caught the ball and I got that first out, I settled down after that."

Didn't you have a little problem with an injury when you came back in the spring?
"After fall ball, I had a little tendinitis in my rotator cuff. But I did a lot of rehab and did what I had to do to get rid of it. I don't have any problems now."

Some of the young guys came in and had big days.
"It was good to get some of the young guys in. They are going to help out this year. We are a young team but talented. We are going to surprise some people this year."

How important was it to come out and get a shutout the first ball game?
"It was big. Guys came out of the bullpen and threw strikes and let the defense get the outs. It is going to be a team effort this year, especially in the bullpen. A lot of guys are going to have to step up."

I guess this game gives you guys some confidence going into tomorrow against a pretty good Illinois team.
"It does, it really does. We hit the ball really well today."


Redshirt freshman DH Brian LaNinfa

Did you know when you hit the home run that it was gone?
"I didn't know. I knew I hit it well but I didn't know I hit it out. I started running and looked up and it went over the fence. I couldn't believe it."

When did you know you were going to start?
"My roommate, Jon Mungle, came up here this morning and called me and told me that I was DHing in the 6th spot. That made my day. To come out and do a great job was even better. It was unbelievable."

After going two for three, your confidence level has to be pretty high right now.
"My first at-bat I was shaking. It was something. I just had to be patient and relax up there. I knew I could get some hits."


Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at swindoll@genespage.com


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