Diamond Dogs bounce back with 7-2 win

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Senior lefty Brooks Dunn registered a career-first complete-game pitching performance Saturday afternoon leading No. 17 Mississippi State (30-14, 9-10 SEC) to a 7-2 win over No. 12 South Carolina (31-12, 12-8 SEC) at Sarge Frye Field. The win evened the three-game SEC weekend series, setting up a deciding "rubber match" Sunday at 12:30 p.m. CDT.

"We needed that big-time," said MSU head coach Ron Polk. "Brooks gave us an oustanding pitching performance today, and we finally got some key hits and didn't leave that many runners on base (seven). Getting that early lead was big for us. We've been playing from behind early in a lot of games lately. It's been a tough stretch, but I'm really proud of our kids for finding a way to battle through it."

Dunn, who had worked a combined seven innings in his previous three starts after opening the year with wins in six of his first seven starts, turned in a strong six-hit, six-strikeout performance against South Carolina, the SEC's top hitting team. He allowed two runs, one earned, and walked two in the first MSU complete-game pitching performance since the 2005 NCAA Tournament (Alan Johnson vs. Florida Atlantic).

The Bulldogs put pressure on the 12th-ranked Gamecocks early, plating two runs in the first inning, adding another in the second and pulling away from a 3-1 game with a four-run eighth.

Shortstop Thomas Berkery, who earlier this season put together an MSU-record and SEC season-longest 30-game hitting streak, went 2-for-3 and drove in three runs. Two of those runs came in the first inning when he followed an Edward Easley walk with his fifth home run of the year. Berkery later singled in MSU's fifth run of the game as the Bulldogs batted through the order in the eighth inning, scoring four runs and facing four different South Carolina pitchers.

Third baseman Michael Rutledge, back in the MSU starting lineup after missing six games with an injured thumb, went 2-for-4 and delivered a key two-run single to right in the eighth. Three batters earlier centerfielder Joseph Hunter extended State's lead to 6-1 with a two-strike base hit to right-center.

Justin Smoak laced a double to left in the sixth inning and later scored USC's first run on Ian Paxton's sacrifice fly to left. The Gamecocks mounted a serious threat in the eighth but managed one run on three singles, including a run-scoring hit that glanced off the glove of shortstop Thomas Berkery in shallow left field.

MSU thwarted a third-inning USC threat when second baseman Jeffrey Rea took a relay throw from rightfielder Andy Rice and fired a strike to catcher Edward Easley that nabbed Cheyne Hurst at the plate. Hurst had reached on a two-out walk and attempted to score from first on an Andrew Crisp double off the right field wall.

Cisco absorbed his first loss of the season, allowing six runs (three earned) on eight hits in seven innings.

Crisp and Smoak had two hits each and Paxton drove in both USC runs to lead South Carolina.

The win was the first by a Bulldog starting pitcher since Dunn's series-opening win over Georgia on April 7 and State's seventh against a nationally ranked opponent in 2006.

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