Dunn Goes Distance Again In 6-2 Bulldog Win

Brooks Dunn apparently enjoyed throwing one complete game so much, he must have figured why not do it again?

The Diamond Dog lefthander turned in a full Friday night outing as Mississippi State defeated visiting Florida 6-2 in their SEC series opener at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs snapped a three-Friday losing streak while improving to 10-11 in SEC play and 32-15 overall. Florida's overall record evened at 24-24, and they fell further into the SEC hole at 6-16.

The Bulldog offense pushed across more than enough runs in their first turn at bat, scoring four in the opening inning including a three-run homer by rightfielder Mitch Moreland. But this evening belonged to the man on the mound each inning-top. Including the last one, for his first time ever at DNF.

"When the crowd stood up in the ninth, I've never experienced that here before," Dunn said. "It feels good."

Dunn was very, very good this evening. He was able to mostly scatter eight hits over his nine innings, giving up lone runs in the fourth and eight innings, and keep everything except a ground-rule double inside the fence. More impressively, Dunn recorded a career-best 11 strikeouts while walking nobody…though he did hit a trio of Gators. None of them scored anyway.

"I felt pretty good out there tonight," Dunn said. "We had a good gameplan for those guys, they're real aggressive and I like people who swing a lot and swing early." He really liked it when the Gators swung late and missed, setting up his career-night for fannings. Only, this night Dunn (8-4) wasn't really trying to strike batters out. "That was kind of a fluke, I didn't even know how many I had!"

Coach Ron Polk did, and he was not surprised at all how Dunn—who lost his Friday job only a week before and responded with a complete-game win at South Carolina—delivered on the home field back in his old slot. "Behind his name ‘D-U-N-N' is ‘S-R'," Polk said. "That's what seniors are supposed to do. Brooks did a good job, he backed off and threw more strikes."

Florida got a pretty fair starting effort from Bryan Augenstein, too. The righthander was able to turn in seven full innings with the same total hits Dunn allowed. Augenstein's downfall was that three of the hits with a walk came in his opening inning and State turned the opportunity into four runs. After that the Gator hurler (8-5) was able to better establish himself and finish with seven strikeouts against two walks. Lefthander David Hurst took care of a hitless, scoreless MSU eighth with two strikeouts.

State's bullpen did get active with closer Brett Cleveland heating up just in case. He wasn't needed. "I was throwing strikes," Dunn said. "And when you throw strikes and have guys playing behind you like that you're going to have outings like that. And the hitters put up four runs in the first, that gives you confidence. The game just flew by."

Dunn didn't lack for early challenges while hanging three-straight ‘0s' on the top line. He was hit for a one-out single in the first inning, and with one down in the second Austin Pride one-hopped the fence for a ground rule double. Two ground-outs to second baseman Jeffrey Rea stranded him. In the third Dunn hit the fist batter and Brian Jeroloman singled. With two down and both runners in scoring position a wicked breaking ball fanned David Cash.

The Gators finally got on the board the fourth time around. With a runner taking off from first Brian Leclerc executed the run-and-hit perfectly, his pulled hot-hopper getting just inside first base for a double and pair in scoring positions. Dunn tried to bounce a curveball by Brandon McArthur on 1-2 only to skip it off the plate for a wild pitch and Florida's first run.

The starter shook it off by striking out McArthur and getting a grounder to hold the margin at four runs. Dunn hit a batter and gave up another single in the otherwise harmless fifth. "I was throwing fastballs early and a lot of off-speed late, and the big guys who can mash I threw off-speed early, too. But overall I was mixing pretty good." He sat the side in the sixth, helped by third baseman Edward Easley's leaping stab of a two-out grounder from McArthur. And after nicking Adam Davis in the seventh Dunn got Jeroloman to spank a grounder right to Rea for the fast double-play.

And of course after that first turn he was pitching with a solid lead. The Bulldogs went to work on Augenstein immediately, with Rea legging out an infield single. An out later shortstop Thomas Berkery dropped a double in the right-side gap, which Gator centerfielder Dickey did well to cut off and prevent Rea from going all the way home. It didn't matter as DH Brian LaNinfa lifted an opposite-way fly to leftfield for the sacrifice and RBI.

But State didn't settle for one run, as so often this season. Catcher Joseph McCaskill took a close one on 2-2 and walked on full count to put a pair on with Moreland coming up. On 1-0 he saw a fat fastball. "He got behind and I was kind of looking for it and he left it up." Moreland crushed it almost to the second fence behind rightfield staking State to a 4-0 lead after one frame.

It was 5-0 an inning later as first baseman Brad Jones led off with a double into the leftfield corner. A great stop by the UF second baseman kept leftfielder Jeff Butts from reaching but Jones was able to take third base and then jog home as Rea flew one deep to centerfield.

Augenstein allowed another hit in the second, to Easley, and walked Moreland in the third with no further damage. In fact he settled into a groove, retiring the side in his fourth inning and working around an errored LaNinfa grounder in the fifth. "He's a good sinker-ball pitcher and when he keeps the ball down he's real effective," Moreland said. "He threw well tonight." Just not well enough early enough.

Augenstein was able to retire ten-of-11 Dogs as he got an out into the seventh inning, before Rea and Easley slipped consecutive singles just under Gator gloves. Berkery fanned for the second out but on 2-1 LaNinfa was able to stay back and drive the ball leftwards. It landed maybe two feet fair for a double, scoring Rea. A full-count called strikeout of McCaskill left two Dogs unscored but the cushion had been expanded by the run, which proved useful soon.

Dunn returned to open the eighth with a couple of quick outs. Gavin Dickey took his 99th pitch into the right-centerfield gap for a double, and on 3-1 Pride punched the RBI-single through the six-hole. With the runner stealing second Dunn got Leclerc to swing on full count and pop-out to Berkery. Then Polk made a decision. "Russ (McNickle) said he's gone 108 pitches, what do you want to do? I said march him back out."

"I knew Brett was in the bullpen and I'm sure if I'd got in trouble they'd have pulled me!" Dunn said. "But I just went out and threw it like all game." He rolled two ground-outs around his 11th strikeout to complete the outing, get the victory, and save State's bullpen.

The Bulldog offense was also feeling good about the evening, particularly with six hits from the top-four in the order and Moreland's timely shot out of the five-slot. "It helps when you put runs on the board early," he said. "It makes the pitcher feel better, too, even though Brooks probably didn't need it tonight. He dominated, we played good defense and we put it all together."

Game-two in the series is scheduled for 2:05 Saturday, though with threatening weather for Sunday and Florida having to make a flight home that day the MSU administration was talking to the SEC Office at game's end about options to play a pair tomorrow. Any decision is expected to come at 10:00 a.m., with no change in the starting time. So everyone will come to the park Saturday ready to play two if necessary. Everybody except Dunn, of course, who is done for this series and already thinking about next Friday. Could he string a third complete-game together?

"Don't think less of me if I don't do it next week!" he grinned.

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