MSU defeated Illinois for second day in a row

STARKVILLE - Mississippi State's early-season offensive explosion continued Sunday at Dudy Noble Field in the final game of the MSU Challenge.<P> The Bulldogs pounded out 12 hits including a pair of home runs as MSU defeated Illinois 9-3. The victory, watched by a Dudy Noble Field crowd of 1,905, moved State to 3-0 on the young season. The Bulldogs complete a weekend sweep of three games in the Mississippi State Challenge while Illinois finished its season-opening play with a 2-2 mark.

"Winning three games is certainly better than losing three games," MSU coach Ron Polk said. "We have a lot of challenges ahead with a relatively-young ballclub. At the same time, we played very well this weekend. The kids played hard and really competed. Every week is a big week but I think these kids built a lot of confidence this weekend."

One of the young Bulldogs playing with a high level of confidence is designated hitter Brian LaNinfa. LaNinfa hit a two-run home run in the second inning, giving the red-shirt freshman from Venice, Fla., three home runs in as many games during the weekend series.

"We knew he was a great hitter when we recruited him," Polk said. "With the wind blowing out, he concentrated on throwing his hands at the ball. He did a real good job of finding pitches he could take out."

Sophomore catcher Craig Tatum hit a solo home run in the fourth inning. The Bulldogs, who hit 49 home runs in 63 games last season, MSU went deep on five occassions.

Elsewhere in the MSU lineup, Jon Mungle, Thomas Berkery and Jeff Butts each had multiple hits. The Bulldogs hit .396 with 44 total hits in the weekend series.

Such offensive production could certainly help MSU make a run in the rugged Southeastern Conference.

"Everybody had us picked fifth in the (Southeastern Conference) West," said winning pitcher Jeff Lacher, a senior co-captain on the squad. "That's what we talked about in the dugout this weekend. Hitting the ball is what really surprised all of us. We hit the ball better this weekend then we have in my time here. The young pitchers came out of the bullpen and did a great job. All of the runs came off the starters. We really looked good coming out of the bullpen."

Lacher (1-0) was touched for two runs in the first inning Sunday. MSU roared back from its first deficit of the year with five runs in its half of the first inning. Jeffrey Rea started things with a leadoff triple. After a walk, Brad Corley and Jon Mungle followed with back-to-back hits. Tatum and LaNinfa then drew walks, chasing Illini starter Jeff Paarlberg (0-1).

Berkery greeted reliever Tim Gorski with a two-run single.

LaNinfa's home run highlighted a three-run second inning which allowed the Bulldogs to open an 8-2 lead.

The MSU bullpen did not allow a run after Lacher's five innings. Former Caledonia, Miss., standout Josh Johnson pitched two innings of shutout baseball with Saunders Ramsey and Brad Corley working and inning each in relief.

Trevor Huisinga had three of the Illini's nine hits. Dusty Bensko also hit his second home run of the weekend.

Paarlberg (0-1) did not record an out while taking the loss. Gorski, James Morris and Bensko followed in relief for the Illini.

The Bulldogs open a busy month of March competition Tuesday, hosting Jackson State at 4 p.m. and Mississippi Valley State Wednesday at 4 p.m.

State plays 21 games in March, all but five of those at Dudy Noble Field.

Illinois (2-2) 201 000 000 ‹ 3-9-1
MSU (3-0) 530 100 00x ‹ 9-12-1

WP --- Jeff Lacher (1-0). LP --- Jeff Paarlberg (0-1). HR ‹ UI: Dusty Bensko (2); MSU: Craig Tatum (1), Brian LaNinfa (3).

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is You can contact him by emailing

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