Dogs Open Sunday Twinbill With 3-1 Win

Mississippi State pushed three runs across in the bottom of the fourth inning and made it stand up as the Diamond Dogs opened a Sunday double-header against Marist with a 3-1 victory.

Saturday rains had forced State starter Josh Johnson to wait an extra day to make his 2006 debut, but the delay seemed to do no harm. The junior righthander put in 6.1 scoreless innings of work to earn the successful decision, and he did it in most efficient fashion. Johnson needed only 72 pitches to run his course, and only one of those offerings became a Red Fox base hit. Johnson struck out five and walked none.

Marist righthander George Heath took the loss in his first outing of '06. He lasted five innings and gave up six of State's eight base hits, as well as all three runs. A total of a dozen safeties were recorded in the game, all singles, and a strong wind coming in from leftfield was definitely a factor all afternoon as at least two Bulldog bids for home runs were kept in the park.

Fox swingers never made that sort of contact on Johnson, who rolled through the first three innings without anyone making base. In that span he threw four ground balls and struck out a pair, establishing his control of the plate. Johnson sat down another pair to open the fourth before Pat Feeney reached on a grounder that first baseman Matt   Jones stopped on a dive but couldn't relay in time to beat the runner.

Feeney even stole a base but Johnson battled through four foul balls to fan DH Justin LePore.

For his part Heath got through three turns with more difficulty. Second baseman Jeffrey Rea began the MSU first with a single-and-steal, and with two down in the second rightfielder Andy Rice and third baseman Michael Rutledge each singled through the six-hole. Leftfielder Jeff Butts almost broke the scoring ice as his bouncer down the first base line couldn't have been foul by more than a seam's width. He grounded out to strand the pair.

Finally in the bottom of the fourth with one down centerfielder Joseph Hunter pounded a seeing-eye single over second base. The Foxes expected Hunter was running and picked a couple of times, but State was playing run-and-hit. Which Hunter and Brian LaNinfa did, respectively, the DH pulling a single through the right side where the first baseman should have been. Hunter made third for Dogs on the corners.

Rice crushed a high, high drive that everyone but the first-base umpire thought was fair. He ruled it foul, though the MSU dugout was so sure otherwise they were already headed to the plate and their protests drew a warning. Rice shrugged off the call by going the other way on the next pitch, into the wind which helped his blooper drop in front of the charging lefffielder for State's first RBI.

Heath should have got back to the dugout with just that one run allowed, as with two outs Butts lifted a high fly into the sunshine that rightfielder Grauer had plenty of time to wait on…maybe too much. Because he let it bounce off his glove, and LaNinfa and Rice came home for a 3-0 score. It would be enough.

Lefthander Josh Rickards took over from Heath for the MSU sixth. With one out he walked substitute DH Joseph McCaskill on base, with Rutledge making a bid that the wind made sure died on the leftfield warning track. Rickards had more problems the next inning. Pinch-batter Matt Richardson made his first college swing count with a leadoff single, and Rea again got a free pass for two on and no outs.

Righty-sidearmer Mike Puckli was brought in to deal with the jam, which soon was worse. On 3-0 Berkery swung away and was most lucky his infield fly was missed for a bases-loading reach. Puckli came back to get another infield fly, this one caught, and Hunter's bid to leftfield couldn't beat the breeze either.

Meanwhile Johnson blew threw the sixth by throwing three pitches, all for fly-outs, then was left in to record the first out of the Marist seventh before Justin Pigott entered. The lefthander got a quick out, then LePore legged out an infield single and Kevin Grauer worked a walk. With the pair on Pigott rolled a ground-out by Bryan Towler to end this threat.

But Max Most opened the Marist eighth with a sharp single Rutledge couldn't snare, and a Brian Gibbs grounder was booted behind second base by Berkery for two on and no outs. A pickoff throw to second hit the runner, advancing Most as base so he could come home on a fielder's choice grounder by Kyle Meyer. Pigott kept the margin 3-1 by rolling another grounder and force at second.

Feeney gave Marist a chance in the ninth with a leadoff single, then Pigott came back with three-straight strikeouts to end the game and get his first save of the season and second-career. He put in 2.2 innings with three hits, a walk, and three strikeouts. Rice was the lone Dog with two base hits, while Feeney had a pair for Marist.

Game-two was to begin at around 4:20 with righthander John Lalor on the mound for MSU. State was also starting the same defensive lineup and batting order as in the opener.

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