Bulldogs face Southern Cal in NBC Classic Series

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Off to its best start since the 2000 season, No. 17 Mississippi State puts its unblemished record on the line against one of college baseball's most-decorated programs when the Bulldogs (9-0) open a three-game NBC Classic series Friday afternoon against Southern California (5-9) at Dudy Noble Field.

The series, which continues Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m., closes out a 12-game season-opening homestand for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs survived their two stiffest challenges of the young season during the midweek, turning back South Alabama 4-2 and 3-2 to advance to 9-0. The 2000 MSU baseball team opened the year at 9-0 before bowing to Cal State Fullerton and Southern California in the Kia Baseball Bash in Fullerton, Calif.

Southern Cal, coached by 17th-year skipper Mike Gillespie, has captured an NCAA-record 12 baseball national championships. The Bulldogs and the Trojans have met three times previously, including a first-time matchup in the 1998 NCAA College World Series. USC topped State 7-1 in the game at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium and went on to capture its 12th national title.

Sophomore right-hander Jamie Gant (2-0, 0.82) will draw starting mound duty for the Bulldogs Friday, working opposite USC freshman ace righty Ian Kennedy (2-0, 1.50).

The Bulldogs, hitting .350 as a team, are paced at the plate by a trio of sophomores - catcher Craig Tatum (.440), outfielder/pitcher Brad Corley (.429) and outfielder Jeff Butts (.400). Corley enters the weekend riding a career-best nine-game hitting streak. He leads the club with 15 hits and shares the team RBI lead of 13 with freshman designated hitter Brian LaNinfa. LaNinfa hit his team-leading four home runs in his first five games.

Mississippi State will play the NBC Classic and the remainder of the 2004 season without its most experienced outfielder, junior leftfielder Jon Mungle. The Germantown, Tenn., product sustained a knee injury during last weekend's Tennessee Tech series and underwent successful reconstructive ACL surgery on his left knee Thursday in Columbus, Miss. Mungle, who drew 107 starts as a designated hitter and outfielder in 2002 and 2003, started five of MSU's first six games this season.

The Trojans, who begin an eight-game, 10-day road jaunt with the NBC Classic series at Dudy Noble Field, are hitting .255 through 14 games. Sophomore shortstop Blake Sharpe (.377, two home runs) leads the way at the plate, with junior first baseman Joey Metropoulos (.327, four home runs) and sophomore infielder Baron Frost (.375, nine doubles) providing the early-season power.

USC upended top-ranked Stanford 11-8 Sunday to close out a 1-2 home weekend series showing against the rival Cardinal at Dedeaux Field.

Following the NBC Classic, USC continues its road trip with a pair of games at Tulane Mar. 16-17) and a three-game series at South Alabama (Mar. 19-21).

Tickets for the Mississippi State-Southern California baseball games will be available each day this weekend at the Dudy Noble Field stadium ticket office.


The fourth annual baseball event sponsored by the National Bank of Commerce takes on a different look this year as the Bulldogs take on one of college baseball's most decorated programs ‹ the University of Southern California, in a three-game set.

Past NBC Classics have been season-opening events featuring three-team fields. Notre Dame and New Orleans joined MSU in the inaugural event in 2002, while State battled Ohio State and UAB in 2002 and last year met Birmingham-Southern and Connecticut.

MSU is 3-4-1 in NBC Classic games.

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