SEC honors MSU's Johnson; Manny hitting .433

[Premium Article] It didn't take Mississippi State coach Ron Polk long to decide he liked what he saw in sophomore transfer pitcher Alan Johnson.<P> The Pleasant Grove, Ala., righthander who pitched one season at Jefferson State (Ala.) Community College before transferring to Mississippi State was Monday named Southeastern Conference "Pitcher of the Week" following a sparkling performance against East Tennessee State.

In fact, it might be said that the Mississippi State mound staff "pitched the Bulldogs" back into the Top 10 teams in the country over the weekend with a "big assist" from Johnson.

The Bulldogs swept the Buccaneers, 7-0, 10-1, 11-4, in a three-game series at Dudy Noble Field. Johnson took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 2 of the series before yielding a pinch hit single to ETSU's Beau Alford.

Ranked No. 10 in the Collegiate Baseball Top 25 Poll released Monday after falling two spots to No. 12 following a rain-delayed opening day loss, the Bulldogs (6-1-1) have reeled off five straight wins headed into their first road trip off the season this week at No. 27 UAB.

Johnson struck out the first three batters he faced against East Tennessee State, setting the side down in order in the first inning. He retired four of the first five Buccaneers to come to the plate on strikeouts and finished with 11 "KO's" before departing.

In mid-season form, Johnson kept notching "KO" after "KO" while keeping a couple of Bulldog fans busy posting "K's" along the grandstand on the first base side of Dudy Noble Field.

The 6-0, 168-pound, lightning-quick hurler was in complete control in his second start of the season. He had pinpoint accuracy, not walking anyone.

Johnson, 2-0 with an impressive 1.93 ERA, retired the first 12 batters he faced. He also struck out the side in the sixth and had at least one strikeout in every inning he worked except the eighth when he was replaced by Jonathan Papelbon who closed out the game.

"I was happy to get the win," said Johnson. "I gave up a hit (spoiling the no-hitter), which stinks," he said with a grin, but "I was happy with the way I pitched."

Mississippi State coaches had decided to leave the young hurler in the game as long as the no-hitter was intact.

"We had a pitch count (85-90), but coach Rock (pitching coach Daron Schoenrock) and myself wanted to leave him in as long as he had the no-hitter going," said Polk.

"Alan is a strike thrower and he has a good curve. He got to the seventh and we decided to let him go," added Polk.

For the second straight outing, Johnson did not walk a batter. He has a team-leading 15 strikeouts in 14 innings, better than a strikeout an inning, while yielding seven hits and holding the opposition to a lowly .152 batting average.

Senior shortstop Matthew "Manny" Maniscalco, of Oxford, Ala., one of nine Diamond Dogs from the Capstone State, has has been just as hot at the plate, hitting safely in all eight games this season while pacing the Dogs with a .433 average (13-for-30).

Junior DH-infielder Brent Lewis of Jackson, Tenn. (Germantown High School) is also swinging the bat at a .400 clip (.438) while starting 4 games.

A true freshman that has been impressive at the plate and in the field in the early going is centerfielder Joseph Hunter.

The speedy Hunter, who drilled the first home run of his career in the series finale, said just playing at Mississippi State was special.

"Just playing here at Mississippi State is like a dream come true for me, and to hit a home run makes it even more special," said Hunter, who already has four extra base hits, including a triple and a two-bagger.

The Bulldogs got back-to-back home runs from sophomore left fielder Jon Mungle, a two-run blast, and a solo shot by Hunter.

Junior first baseman Matthew Brinson and third baseman Steve Gendron are both hitting .355 followed by sophomore DH-catcher J. B. Tucker with a .353 average. The Bulldogs are led in home runs by Brinson and transfer second baseman Tyler Scarbrough from Meridian Community College with two home runs apiece.

"I think we've all kind of settled down - our pitchers, the hitters, and the defense. I know I've become more comfortable playing in the outfield and at the plate," said Hunter, who has been hit by pitches four times and has drawn three base on balls.

Junior preseason All-American lefty Paul Maholm (1-1, 0.69), who pitched six shutout innings in the opener against ETSU to notch the win, has 14 strikeouts in two outings, while sophomore lefty Todd Nicholas (0-0, 2.57) has 10 strikeouts in seven innings of work.

"We had a good ERA for the weekend," said Polk, referring to the five runs the MSU staff yielded in 27 innings.

With a win over UAB and a tie with Louisiana Tech the last two days, the Bulldogs continue their non-conference schedule with a three-game series beginning at 4 p.m. Friday against Lipscomb at Dudy Noble Field.

The MSU-LU game Saturday has a special Noon starting time, while the series finale is set for 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page.

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