Bulldogs Open Series With 9-5 Win

Arkansas State had already claimed a couple of SEC victims this young season with wins at Mississippi and Kentucky. So it oughtn't have been any surprise when the visiting Indians rallied from an early three-run deficit to take a 4-3 lead over Mississippi State.

Of course neither were the Diamond Dogs surprised that they had the firepower to shake off this challenge. MSU batters proved it by pounding out a dozen hits in a 9-5 victory over visiting Arkansas State in Friday's series-opener at Dudy Noble Field. "They're the heroes of this game," said winning pitcher Brooks Dunn. "They did a great job."

Actually, it was just the sort of job State hitters expected of themselves. "This is what this team has been talking about all year," said first baseman Brad Jones, who had a team-best three base hits. "We've got the confidence level and we don't worry or push ourselves when we get down."

The Bulldogs improved to 4-0, while the Indians fell to 7-3. And despite the final score, this was a competitive contest all nine innings as State needed some timely defensive plays and sharp relief pitching to keep control.

"Arkansas state is a good ball club," Coach Ron Polk said. "Their starter beat Kentucky and he's pretty good. Thankfully we scored early." As in, three runs in the bottom of the first inning off ASU starter Joel Boeschen that came in quite handy all day. Those scores certainly eased the burden on Dunn when he was tagged for four ASU runs to lose the lead, but never the game.

"I just didn't feel I had my best stuff today, but I was going to battle," Dunn said. "They swing it alright and are real aggressive."

Dunn (2-0) did battle, successfully, through six full innings. He gave up five hits with a walk and two strikeouts, and while four runs were charged to the senior only one was earned. "He was behind in the count a lot," Polk said. "The umpire looked tight and Brooks is not going to be a right-down-the-middle guy." Still Dunn stayed around the dish enough to make his second Friday start a winning one.

Chad Crosswhite relieved for the seventh and eighth frames, and Brett Cleveland sealed the victory with a scoreless ninth inning.

Boeschen (1-1) had a harder day, starting with a 32-pitch first inning. Yet despite 11 hits and seven runs, all earned, he still lasted 6.2 innings. His outing began badly as MSU second baseman Jeffrey Rea and third baseman Ed Easley turned first pitches into base hits. Shortstop Thomas Berkery took a couple of offerings before driving in the day's first run on a single up the middle.

Jones went the other way with a fly-ball that the leftfielder let bounce off his glove; it was ruled a hit, meaning an RBI as Easley scored. And with still only one down and Dogs on the corners catcher Joseph McCaskill pounded a grounder deep to the second baseman for a fielder's choice and 3-0 lead as Berkery came home.

If Boeschen was shaken he recovered quickly and strung together three scoreless innings. Meanwhile Dunn found out the Indians could swing the sticks, never mind that he'd gotten through his first inning on just four pitches. "When we had another three-run first I'm like whew, another good day. Then I started giving up runs." It began in the top of the second with a single and walk. A ground ball moved the runners up, and a fly-ball by Elliot Jacobs plated ASU's Kevin Kull.

The third inning was bigger as Dunn gave up a single and a grounder to Easley—starting at third in place of Michael Rutledge—that was errored on the throw. Hudson Smart provided another RBI on a fly ball, though it took a great back-to-the-ball, basket-catch by rightfielder Andy Rice to save an extra-base hit. It didn't matter though because the Indians ran a successful double-steal, and Josh Yates pulled a double inside the third-base bag for the tying and go-ahead runs.

Boeschen made that lead hold up into the fifth. "He's a competitor and he had a couple of quick innings, he did a good job," Jones said. But after stranding a pair in the MSU fourth Boeschen got hit in the fifth, starting with a leadoff double by Easley. With one out Jones singled for Dogs on the corners, and centerfielder Joseph Hunter spanked a ball right to the third baseman. He bobbled it and had no play, with Easley scoring for a 4-4 tie. McCaskill delivered the lead run with a single to centerfield that plated Jones.

Still Boeschen stayed on the hill, and paid the price. DH Matt Richardson began the MSU sixth with a single to rightfield and took second on a bunt by leftfielder Jeff Butts. Rea followed with a hard grounder that hopped high enough, for long enough, that the runner easily beat the throw. He also stole second, though it didn't matter because Richardson was already on third base and able to score easily on a fly ball by Easley for a 6-4 score.

State added one more score in their seventh as McCaskill doubled with two outs and Rice walked, finishing Boeschen. T.J. Brewer took over, but was fooled into throwing to first with Rice running and drawing a run-down that gave McCaskill time to take home.

Dunn completed his stint after six, with Crosswhite taking over to open the seventh. He finished it with a double-play, too. The ASU eighth was tougher, as Brett Kinning led off with a single and pinch-hitter David Humphrey was pitch-hit. A walk of Kull filled the bases with no outs. Crosswhite got a ground-ball that might have been the game's key play because Rutledge, now in at third, fielded it and threw low in front of the plate. Easley, back in his usual job, stretched for a grab and force.

"Ed saved us with that pick," Jones said, "that was a momentum-shifter." But the bags were still loaded and a short roller to third base by Guy Brown could not be turned into a double-play. Kinning scored what turned out to be the last Indian run as Crosswhite ended the rally with a ground-out to first base.

Just in case, State padded the lead with two final scores. With two outs Easley and Berkery both walked and Jones dropped a single into rightfield for his second RBI. Indian reliever T.J. Brewer sailed a fastball over his catcher's head to allow Berkery to run in from third base for the final 9-5 count.

Cleveland, who did not get to throw in the opening weekend, walked his first batter of '06 but came back to strike out the next three and end the evening. Arkansas State finished with seven base hits, though they were taking enough hacks for more. "They're a free-swinging ball club," Polk said, "they probably saw our stats from last week with two walks and 33 strikeouts and said they'd go ahead and whale away."

Rutledge did not start this game after experiencing back spasms earlier in the week. "He didn't practice much all week," Polk said, "but our trainer Jay Logan said he could play." This gave McCaskill, an outfielder last spring, his chance to start behind the plate. Redshirt Richardson made his first college start as the DH, and was subbed-for later by Brian LaNinfa.

Game-two in the series starts at noon Saturday. Righthander Josh Johnson (1-0) is to start for State and righthander John Lalor (1-0) the Sunday game.

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