Old(er) Dogs Hold Off Rookies 12-8

Last fall a bunch of Diamond Dog youngsters made their mark by knocking off the varsity in the annual Maroon-White game. It was only the second time on record the rookies had beaten the veterans. A year later those former pups nearly got the same treatment from another crop of new kids on the Mississippi State roster.

Relief pitcher Mitch Moreland left the tying and go-ahead runners in scoring positions in the top of the 11th inning as the veteran White team held off a Maroon rally and took a 12-8 win Friday evening at Dudy Noble Field. The final score was a bit deceptive as the entire 11 innings were played, which allowed the Whites to pad their margin of victory with three runs in the last half-frame.

The intrasquad game, which as usual pitted the freshmen, redshirts, and new transfers against the veterans on the Diamond Dog roster, came as fall practices draw to a close. Since Coach Ron Polk came to campus for the 1976 season the older squad has won every time but twice, in 1982 and 2005.

So when the Whites built a 7-1 lead by the end of six it seemed the youngsters were going to meekly follow the classic script. They didn't, scoring thrice in both the ninth and 11th innings to keep it competitive…and entertaining. The pups even ended up out-hitting their elders 17 to 13.

"We've seen them every day, and we've played in a lot of count-and-situation games," Polk said. "This was a game where it was 0-0 and I thought the kids enjoyed themselves and played hard."

Those who could play, that is. Eight Bulldogs were unable to participate in the game-type scrimmages with various injuries. That included two hurt in the past week. Starting senior second baseman Jeffrey Rea pulled a quadricep running on Scout Day, and C/1B Ryan Duffy stepped on a ball Thursday. "Both of them are probably out for the Banana Split series," Polk said.

Already out were pitchers LH Jared Wesson and RH Matt Lea, both of whom will miss the 2007 season with shoulder problems. RHP Chad Crosswhite is on the sideline for now with tendinitis, RHP Aaron Weatherford has a nerve problem in the throwing shoulder, and both RH Mike Valentine and RH Drew Hollinghead are currently in re-hab after summer surgeries.

The number of unavailable arms meant that, unlike last year when most hurlers only got an inning apiece, most had to put in a pair of frames this game. That, and five weeks of practice familiarity, might have led to the 30 total base hits. "But we've got I think a pretty good hitting ball club," Polk said. "I thought the kids battled hard."

Senior righthander Josh Johnson had the most impressive stint, tossing the tops of the third and fourth and striking out five of the six Maroons faced. Senior first baseman Brian LaNinfa provided four RBI with a solo home run and a three-run double. Moreland also had a longball with his solo shot in the bottom of the eighth.

The rookie batting order was entirely alphabetical, while the veterans swung in more of a game-type progression. And due to Rea's injury redshirt infielder Brandon Turner got to play with his elders and be on the winning side.

Lefty Jesse Carver was the first White pitcher, and gave up a two-out hit to 2B Will Coggin in his first inning. The runner erased himself when caught stealing. An out into his second turn the veteran lefty was in bigger trouble as he hit C Scott DeLoach and walked RF Nick Hardy. With two on and no outs CF Mark Goforth took two balls, then dropped a bunt down the third base line that loaded the bases.

LF Leon Farmer hit a soft liner that White 3B Michael Rutledge nearly snared on the dive. The ball touched dirt first but Rutledge waited on the call, then stepped on the bag before throwing to the plate. It was too late to get DeLoach anyway and went wild, leaving runners on corners with a run in. Farmer stole second before Carver retired OF Grant Hogue on a fly ball.

Johnson kept the kids at that one run by retiring six-straight, and thanks to timing he also was credited as the ‘winner' since the Whites took the lead between his turns.

It came in their third chance, with righthander and sidearmer Kevin Hatch on the hill. LF Joseph McCaskill drew a one-out walk and OF Wynn Diggs got around on the first pitch and one-hopped it into the rightfield corner for a double and two in scoring positions. IF Jeff Flagg watched a sweet curveball strike, then bounced a single just over Hatch's glove and through the middle. McCaskill and Diggs both scored, though Flagg pushed his luck going for second and was thrown out.

Hatch had another jam in the fourth as after two were down he walked SS Bunky Kateon and hit 2B Brandon Turner, then a passed ball moved both along. LaNinfa worked the count full before lifting a fly ball to short leftfield that Farmer ran down.

But in the fifth the Whites doubled their total, off Maroon lefty Jared Holloway. A one-out single by RF Andy Rice, wild Holloway pitch, and ground ball from CF Matt Richardson had the runner on third base with two down. McCaskill lined a drive that sank just in front of a diving Cade Hoggard for the RBI-single. After walking Diggs, Holloway threw another wild pitch to move both runners into scoring positions. Flagg laid off a hard breaker and the dirtball bounced through catcher Donny Stephens, plating McCaskill for the 4-1 tally through five frames.

In the sixth there were two down when the top of the White order came back up. They made Holloway pay, too, as Rutledge singled to the right side and Kateon reached when his strike-three got by the backstop for a wild pitch. Turner legged out an infield single to the first baseman to fill the sacks for LaNinfa.

On 2-2 the first baseman lined a shot that hit the fence on one-hop. LaNinfa made second as the bags cleared in front of him for three RBI and a 7-1 margin.

After five scoreless frames the pups made some eighth-inning noise off lefty Justin Pigott, who had ended the seventh on a double-play. He had two down before the last man in the Maroon order, catcher Brent Tanner, singled his way on. 3B Jet Butler followed with a base hit of his own, and on the first pitch SS Ryan Powers dropped a RBI-hit in front of leftfielder Diggs. Pigott kept it at 7-2 with a fly-out of Coggin.

And Moreland got that run back by himself in the bottom of the inning. The last man in the White order, he took a 2-2 offering from Jared Koon and put it on the boardwalk just behind right-centerfield. Rutledge singled and Kateon walked before Koon struck out Turner to end the frame.

The Maroons weren't through, though, putting together a rally in their ninth inning off lefty Andy Wilson. The surge began with three consecutive singles from Hoggard, DeLoach, and Hardy, the last for one RBI. Farmer added another with his one-out fielder's choice grounder to the White shortstop. Hogue's infield hit and a plunking of IF Jason Nappi with the runners moving had the bags full.

IF Conner Powers made it an 8-5 game on a ground ball too slow for a force at second base. Farmer scored from third but Hogue tried to come all the way from second and was thrown out to end the assault. And LaNinfa pulled his no-doubt shot over rightfield to lead off the bottom of the ninth. This homer also came off Koon.

The Maroons still took one last hack at the comeback in their 11th, after Moreland had struck out a pair. Hoggard walked, then scored all the way from first on a fly-ball double from DeLoach. Hardy went to the other field for his own double just over the glove of the leftfielder, plating DeLoach. When Moreland walked Goforth the tying runner was on base.

And when Farmer bounced a double over the third baseman that tying score was on third and the go-ahead runner on second. Moreland went 1-1 to Hogue, who lifted a fly ball to short centerfield for Rice to snare and secure the victory.

The Whites made the win look much easier on the box score with three meaningless runs in the bottom of the 11th. Lefty Tyler Whitney worked the last two innings and got away with a couple of walks in the tenth. But he led off the last inning by nicking Moreland. With one out Kateon singled Moreland over and Turner drove him in with a base hit.

LaNinfa drew a walk, then Easley dropped a blooper behind first base and a yard inside the line. Kateon scored easily and lax defense let Turner sneak on home for the final margin.

There were only two errors charged, one to each squad. The top defensive play came from the youngsters in the bottom of the fifth, and by accident. A hot one-hopper to the left side by Easley brought Sneed charging the tough chance only to have the ball carom off his glove…and right to shortstop Ryan Powers. He made the throw in time for a 5-6-3 putout.

Now the Diamond Dogs turn attention to finishing fall ball with their annual split-roster series. It won't be a full best-of-seven this year, though. "We've got eight guys banged-up right now," Polk said. "We only have 12 pitchers healthy so we're going to spread out the Banana Split next week and make it best-of-five."

Other than injuries State's skipper has been satisfied with the session so far. "We've been out here five-and-a-half week and no surprises yet. But I'd like to have Duffy and Rea ready to play and get the chance to see some more pitchers. We'll practice Sunday, the days we're not playing Banana Split we'll practice. Then we'll go into small-group work, with interviews and evaluations at the end of the semester."

GAME STATISTICS:

The Maroon defense started out as: C Scott DeLoach, 1B Cade Hoggard, 2B Will Coggin, SS Ryan Powers, 3B Jet Butler, LF Leon Farmer, CF Mark Goforth, RF Nick Hardy.

The opening White lineup was: C Ed Easley, 1B Brian LaNinfa, 2B Jet Butler, SS Bunky Kateon, 3B Michael Rutledge, LF Joseph McCaskill, CF Matt Richardson, RF Andy Rice.

MAROON (ab-r-h-rbi): Butler 4-0-1-0; R.Powers 4-0-2-1;Coggin 4-0-1-0; Hoggard 3-2-1-0; DeLoach 3-3-2-1; Hardy 3-1-2-2; Goforth 3-0-2-0; Farmer 4-1-1-1; Hogue 4-0-2-0; Nappi 2-0-0-0; C.Powers 3-0-0-1; Sneed 3-0-1-0; Stephens 3-0-0-0; Tanner 3-1-1-0.

Pitchers (ip-h-r-bb-k): Bowen 2-0-0-0-2; Hatch 2-2-2-2-0; Holloway 2-5-5-1-2; Houston 1-0-0-0-0; Koon 2-3-2-1-3; Whitney 2-3-3-2-2.

WHITE (ab-r-h-rbi): Rutledge 5-1-2-0; Kateon 3-2-1-0; Turner 4-2-2-1; LaNinfa 4-1-2-4; Easley 5-0-1-2; Rice 5-1-1-0; Richardson 4-0-0-0; McCaskill 3-2-1-1; Diggs 3-1-1-0; Flagg 3-0-1-2; Lewis 3-0-0-0; Moreland 3-2-1-1.

Pitchers (ip-h-r-bb-k): Carver 2-2-1-1-1; Johnson (W) 2-0-0-0-5; Lalor 2-3-0-0-1; Pigott 2-4-1-0-0; Wilson 2-5-3-0-1; Moreland 1-3-3-2-2.


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