In the opener it was DH Brian LaNinfa having a near-perfect day, hitting safely 4-of-5 trips. This day it was catcher Edward Easley setting the tone, with an even better average. The junior backstop really was perfect at the plate, going 4-of-4 with two RBI and two runs scored. Both ribbies came on his sixth-inning blast over leftfield, the third and last longball of State's day.
"It was a fun game," said Easley, and not just for himself. "Everybody got in there and got some hits, we got a couple of home runs up in the wind, not that a couple wouldn't have got out without the wind." Though there was a stout prevailing blow going right-to-left all afternoon, the catcher was correct as all the shots would have cleared a Dudy Noble Fence to almost any angle.
The other blasts were provided by leftfielder Jeff Flagg in the second inning and third baseman Conner Powers in the sixth. All went out to leftfield with Powers' shot clearing not just the fence and parking rows but the cedar trees behind. Powers also had one of State's four doubles on the day as a dozen Dogs (eight starters) got at least one base knock.
"You knew we were going to hit," said pitcher Justin Pigott, the prime beneficiary of the offensive prowess. "I think we've got one of the best hitting lineups, just a bunch of young guys taking hacks."
Not all were so young, as junior Easley and senior 2B Jeffrey Rea had six of the hits. Yet redshirt frosh Brandon Turner, hitting between them, added two more safeties and a pair of RBI. In all, the top of State's starting order combined for ten hits, which included a couple from substitutes. In fact, with Wyn Diggs hitting safely in the seventh, the catching position was a flawless 5-of-5 Saturday.
"We bunched some runs, we swung the bat good and got some balls up in the air for home runs," Coach Ron Polk said. "I thought maybe there would be more hit." Not by Murray State, which managed only four hits and nothing for more than one base.
Lefty Pigott allowed all four over his seven-inning stint. It wasn't the ideal day to throw with that gusty air crossing the mound laterally, but Pigott was actually able to use it to his advantage in some situations. "I knew I could come up-and-in on lefties and not worry about it, long fly balls (to right) weren't getting out of here." Other than that, though, Pigott wasn't entirely content with his first outing of '07, though he only walked one and struck out four.
"The first five innings were kind of rough, I didn't feel good at all. I was just kind of battling and getting us some stops. The last two actually felt good, then I came out…which kind of stinks! But I don't think I did a good job today on getting ahead of guys, I had too many three-ball counts and walked a guy, hit a guy. But I'll take it, a first start and glad to be out there."
True freshman Greg Houston struck out one in the eighth for his first college action, and first baseman Mitch Moreland was able to get a turn on the hill with a three-strikeout ninth. Murray State starter Brad Rowland (0-1) took the loss, as well as a beating. He was left on the mound for 3.2 innings to surrender 11 hits and seven runs, all earned.
And it could have been worse if State had cashed in on a bases-loaded situation in the first inning, with one out. Friday hero LaNinfa hit it well but right at Rowland for a double-play. The second frame was another matter as Powers opened with a double to leftfield and took third base on a grounder from RF Andy Rice. The runner was able to trot home as Flagg's shot landed in the second row of the Leftfield Lounge.
With two down Rea came back up to single and steal his way into scoring position. Turner did the honors with his base hit dropped in front of the centerfielder for a 3-0 lead after one.
Pigott worked through the first three innings with only leadoff singles in the second and third against him. In the fourth he gave up a one-out hit, walk, and on 2-2 nicked the batter to fill the sacks. Tyler Owen one-hopped a shot that his MSU counterpart, Powers, bobbled while changing hands to prevent any twin-killing. Powers did throw out the batter for one out as Jason Payton came home with Murray State's first run. Given another chance Powers handled another hard grounder cleanly and stranded three Thoroughbreds.
And MSU's offense got that one back and more, though not before two were outs. Order-topper Rea sliced a single into centerfield and had the green light to steal second. He not only succeeded but took third as the throw was wild. Turner's single into rightfield got the RBI. Easley singled past the third baseman to put Dogs on corners, and Moreland doubled into right-centerfield to score both runners and make the margin 6-1.
Murray State finally pulled hapless Howland for lefty John Newton, only to have LaNinfa get around on the sidearmer and whip a single through the box to score Moreland and leave State in front 7-1 after four frames.
Newton lasted into the sixth and likely wished he hadn't as State pushed five more runs across. Turner reached on an error, one of five by Murray State this day, and Easley made it hurt worse with his two-run shot. A Moreland double finished Newton for Marc Harmon, who did get a ground-out of Matt Richardson before serving up the ball Conners crushed for a 11-1 score. With two down sub leftfielder Joseph McCaskill singled and took second on an errant pickoff, which allowed sub centerfielder Marc Goforth to drive him in with a misplayed ground ball.
State's last score came in the eighth from a nearly-new order. Redshirt outfielder Cade Hoggard made his first college at-bat count with a double that earned an extra base on a throwing gaffe. Goforth was able to single him in, at the expense of fourth Murray State hurler Bryan Baldini.
Pigott did give up a sixth-inning single but otherwise was unchallenged in the last few frames, retiring ten-straight in his strongest stretch. "Justin is better than he was today," said catcher Easley, "which is good. He did what it took to get the win."
Also having multiple-hit days were Moreland (3), Powers, Flagg, and Goforth (2 each). For a second day the Dogs played errorless defense, and Rea was able to successfully steal twice. "It was a fun all-around game," said Easley. "Everybody is still excited, it's early in the season."
The game also beat the fast-approaching storm front expected to strike Starkville this evening, and be cleared by Sunday morning. Game-three is at 1:30 with State scheduled to throw senior righthander Josh Johnson, while Murray State will put their best arm righty Mike Perconte on the hill. It will be an intense day for both right-siders, Polk predicts.
"Tomorrow will be the same breeze blowing out to left. They're throwing their number-one pitcher, so we'll have our hands full."