He did just that, striking out 11 Red Fox batsmen to lead the Diamond Dogs in a 4-2 victory that wrapped up double-header. It also concluded a weekend sweep for State over visiting Marist (0-3), after a 9-3 win Friday and 3-1 win in Sunday's first match. The twinbill was forced by Saturday rains. And while this day's scores were not as lopsided as Friday's romp, the outcomes were satisfactory for Coach Ron Polk.
"For the most part we pitched well and got some timely hitting," he said. "It was a good weekend for us."
It was a great day for Lalor, who had been scheduled to throw game-three anyway but also had to wait three more hours than planned to throw his first pitch of the season. He spent the time watching fellow righty Josh Johnson handle Marist, as well as tuning up his own pitching plan. It was obviously a good one as Lalor fanned the first four Foxes faced, setting a fast tone for his day. Make that, a fastball tone.
"I was throwing two-seam, four-seam, a changeup, and every now and then I'd mix in a breaking ball. The plan was to locate the fastball, get ahead and go from there." And even when Lalor did run into trouble, such as the third inning, he stuck to the winning plan. He finished up with 6.2 innings of work, allowing three hits with one unearned run, and a lone walk against those 11 whiffs.
Polk wasn't surprised to get this sort of outing from the soph, who worked midweek games in 2005. "He had a great summer, he's gained 20 pounds, his fastball has more zip to it and his changeup is better."
Still Lalor wasn't asked to go the distance in his '06 debut. Nor needed to, either, with Mitch Moreland and Aaron Weatherford combining in relief duty. Lefty Moreland stepped in with two down and one on base in the seventh and held what was a 2-1 State lead at the time. Then after a leadoff double in the top of the ninth true freshman Weatherford got his first call to the mound. He did allow the runner to score with two outs before ending the game and earning a save.
Three Marist moundsmen managed to hold State to a weekend-low seven base hits. But the Bulldogs did get enough well-timed contact to never trail and keep the pitchers on their plans. Righthander Bobby Hastry opened for the Foxes and cruised through his first turn. In his second, though, first baseman Brad Jones opened with a double to left-centerfield. A ground ball moved him up a base and DH Brian LaNinfa scored the runner with his ground-out to the right side.
So the run Marist scored in the top of the next inning only tied things up. A sharp single by Keith Glasser was followed by a Kyle Meyer bouncer that shortstop Thomas Berkery barehanded but threw wildly to put a pair in scoring positions. Travis Musolf fought off a fastball on 2-2 for a fielder's choice, evening the score at 1-1, and Lalor kept it there by striking out Andy Kiriakedes on a high fastball.
It stayed tied into the sixth, where Lalor stranded another runner with a called strikeout. In the bottom of the inning catcher Ed Easley slapped a single through shortstop, and Berkery ate up the Marist third baseman with a scorched grounder. Marist changed arms, bringing in righthander Erik Supplee who struck out Jones. But on 1-1 centerfielder Joseph Hunter lashed a clean single past the diving third baseman that scored Easley from second and put State ahead, to stay. It took a basket-grab by leftfielder Max Most to keep the margin at 2-1, too.
Lalor stayed around long enough to get two more outs, including his last K, in the seventh, before walking Bryan Towler. Moreland had been heating up on the chilly day and now entered to earn a Most ground-out. And the MSU offense made Marist's missed chance hurt all the more by immediately doubling the lead. Rightfielder Andy Rice walked and took second on a ground ball by Rutledge. With two outs second baseman Jeffrey Rea singled into rightfield, and as Easley scored Rea took second on the throw. Righthander Robert Ryan replaced Supplee only to have Easley get his second hit of the day with a double into left-center that plated Rea and gave State the 4-1 margin.
The extra cushion was helpful in the last inning after Pat Feeney led off with the double, which resulted in Weatherford's entrance. Marist also made a move, pinch-hitting righthander Andrew Stanton. The pitcher won, as Weatherford fanned Stanton on three pitches. Weatherford needed six pitches to get Grauer swinging, and had Gibbs set up before the Fox first baseman ripped a double through Rutledge's legs for the RBI. This put the tying runner at the plate and Most stroked it well, but Hunter made the running snare to end the evening.
Hastry (0-1) took the loss, and of State's seven hits four were good for two-bases. Hunter and Easley each had a pair of safeties. The Bulldogs did misplay the ball three times and neither of Marist's runs were earned.
Lalor certainly enjoyed his first win of a new year, but he downplayed all those Ks. "Josh had a three-pitch inning (in game one), I'd rather have that than strikeouts any day!" More seriously, the pitcher said opening the year with a three-game sweep was big for this veteran club. "We needed to get off on a good note and get some momentum and keep rolling. Because Arkansas State and Arizona are coming in in a few weeks, pretty soon we're going to get in conference play. So we're going to facing some good challenges up ahead.
Polk thought the Bulldogs had already met a challenge in the opening weekend. "Marist is a nice ball club, they're probably going to win their conference. I think we played one of the more competitive teams of the SEC this weekend."
State is off until Friday when they open the Arkansas State series with a 4:00 contest at Dudy Noble Field.