Polk Tentatively Sets Game-One Lineup

Coach Ron Polk doesn't have to turn in his lineup card until around 2:30 Friday afternoon. But the Mississippi State skipper has essentially finalized the squad that will take on Elon in the opening game of the Clemson Regional. In fact, the State coaching staff had one call effectively made for them.

Outfielder Andy Rice was unable to participate in State's Thursday afternoon practice at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. "Andy is sick right now, he's back at the hotel," Polk told reporters while the healthy Bulldogs worked out. The sophomore was feeling queasy even before boarding the bus yesterday in Starkville, and Thursday morning was down with stomach illness. "I think he's alright," Polk said.

Still Rice's situation helped the coach make one of several starting lineup calls for tomorrow. The most crucial one isn't in rightfield, either. It was who will be receiving pitches from lefthander Brooks Dunn, and Polk is going with Edward Easley at catcher.

"More than likely right now," the coach qualified. "Because Elon will run a little bit, I'd rather put Easley behind the plate and Michael Rutledge at third. Mitch Moreland will be in right and Brad Jones at first base. Brian LaNinfa will DH, unless something changes."

This is a different squad than the one(s) which opened for State in the final regular-season series. In fact Jones has not started since the second game at Kentucky, and his senior season has been tough at the plate due to wrist tendinitis that developed in late March. But Polk likes what he's seen from Jones in this week's workouts. "Brad has been swinging a lot better." Still the coach can't help thinking aloud, again, of what might have been this season if Jones and Rice had been 100% healthy. Rice hurt his shoulder, tearing the labrum slightly, the week before Jones' wrist started acting up and neither has been able to produce offensively as anticipated.

"They were our four-five hitters starting the season and we really haven't had a lot of great use out of them because of the injuries." Polk added that if State gets a ‘healthy' lead tomorrow Rice could likely see action as a defensive substitute in rightfield.

For that matter LaNinfa and Rutledge have had their own health issues. LaNinfa, who has taken Jones' place 13 times at first base including the last five games, has been slowed by a pulled hamstring for six weeks. It doesn't affect his swinging and the junior leads State in home runs. Polk said this afternoon LaNinfa's hamstring is OK now, as is the hand Rutledge jammed almost two months ago.

"And we left two pitchers back, Matt Lea (shoulder tendinitis) and Michael Valentine (shoulder soreness). It looks like Michael has a tear that has to be dealt with."

The Bulldogs worked out at Kingsmore Stadium from 1:00 to 2:15, after a half-hour of warming up in the batting cage behind rightfield.

Elon, Regional second-seed and champions of the Southern Conference, has confirmed that senior righthander Matt Chastain will get the start against State. Polk said that serious scouting of the opponent was just getting underway as more data was obtained. "We haven't seen Elon, we just got a lot of information on them and I don't know exactly what they're left-right combinations are right now. We'll take a good look at it tonight.

"But everybody we talk to says they're a very good ball club. And they're a two-seed, higher than us. Chastain has been around the block, and it's all juniors and seniors in their lineup it looks like."

Gene's Page Top Stories