Dunn, Pigott Booked For Regional Starts

Planning out the pitching for a NCAA Regional is nothing like lining up arms for a three-game series. Or, for that matter, a five-day conference tournament. But Mississippi State Coach Russ McNickle wants his hurlers to just leave all the complex calculating to him. "I told the staff let's be the winner of the day, play to win the day and go to the next day and attack it."

This is the simplified approach the Diamond Dog staff will take into the Clemson Regional. Much as they might want to plan for second, and hopefully third or more starting, McNickle only asks all hand (right and left alike) to focus on the daily task. Because from now on, State is playing today for a chance to play tomorrow.

"We'll play every game one at a time and use every bullet we've got just to get to the next day," McNickle said.

Brooks Dunn will fire first when State takes on Elon at 2:00 (CT) this Friday in the Regional opener. McNickle confirmed Tuesday that the senior lefthander will get the game-one start, though he added that Dunn might not be 100% strength. His last stint was a long and tough one on May 18, and "I'm just a little worried because he's still a little tender from the Ole Miss game." Still McNickle has faith the old Dog will be able to put in a good afternoon's work, with some help from Ma Nature. "It's going to be hot so hopefully he gets a chance to loosen and get six, seven innings. That's the key."

Sophomore lefty Justin Pigott is the only arm that won't be available in game-one relief, as he is booked for Saturday. That is regardless of whether State ends up matched against host and national #1 seed Clemson, or fourth-seed UNC-Asheville; or if the game is in the winner's bracket or for sheer survival. It's going to be Dunn and Pigott, McNickle said.

"Right now that's the 1-2 punch we'll go with, then hopefully have the chance go to on to game three or four." And as he noted, no bullet will go un-fired to give State the chance at those later games so all relievers will be on quick call whether for long stints or individual matchups.

The Phoenix of Elon will be tough matches for Dunn & Co. McNickle has had a chance to look over the stats and talk to conference cousins who have faced the Phoenix. "The lineup one-through-nine is all juniors or seniors so they're experienced hitters," he said. Elon batted .305 for their regular season, with a group that is usually six righthanders with three lefties mixed in. "There's a little bit of pop in the middle of their lineup. The leadoff guy gets on and steals bases, the eight-hole guy gets on and steals, those guys have about 40 bases between them."

It's that speed and aggressiveness that has the pitching coach concerned. "Elon does a lot of little stuff, like the bunts and trying to put pressure on the defense, especially if they've got the lead. So Brooks has to be able to do some things, hold the runners." That certainly is a test for the State senior, who at times has been prone to balk-calls."

The 25-man Regional roster shows nine primary pitchers, as well as outfielder/pitcher Mitch Moreland, which should be sufficient arms even if the tourney lasts the maximum-possible five games. Four of the ten are southpaws with Dunn, Pigott, Moreland, and Jesse Carver; the six righties are Chad Crosswhite, Josh Johnson, Aaron Weatherford, Brett Cleveland, John Lalor, and Trent Hill.

McNickle would love to think Dunn would go the distance on the first day, much as Alan Johnson did last June in the Coral Gables Regional against Florida-Atlantic. Dunn did start in that tournament, in a game-four, but lasted just 1.1 innings against Miami in the final contest of State's 2005 season. Realistically, the pitching coach is asking for those 18 outs before giving a rested and healthy relief staff the ball. Hopefully, in a situation to seal a victory which would let State start planning for at least two more days of play.

"But like I told Coach Polk, we've just got to prepare like this is the last game and then if we win approach the next game the same way," said McNickle.

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