JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mississippi State University opened the 2008 baseball season on a positive note with an 8-2 win over the University of North Florida Friday afternoon at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, home of the Class AA Southern League Jacksonville Suns.
With the victory, M-State won its season opener for a fifth straight season. Coach Ron Polk is now 22-7 in seasons openers with the Bulldogs. The sunshine state road trip marks the first time the Diamond Dogs played a season opener away from home since the 2000 campaign.
The teams were scoreless before senior right fielder Andy Rice hit a towering fly ball down the right field line for a grand slam home run. The round-tripper was Rice’s sixth career home run and also the second grand slam of his career, coming on the heels of a game-winner walk-off slam in a 9-5 win over Auburn last season in Starkville.
MSU threatened in the early innings. The Bulldogs stranded a pair of runners in both the first and second innings. In the third inning, UNF starter Ty Pryor issued two-out walks to Connor Powers, Jason Nappi and Tyler Moore. The Ospreys then brought Antonio Franzese to the mound in relief. Rice reached Franzese for the home run and an early 4-0 lead.
North Florida quickly answered with two runs in the home half of the third inning. Michael R. Smith started things with a double. T.J. Thompson then drew a one-out walk. Travis Martin did the damage with a two-run single up the middle with two outs, cutting the lead to 4-2.
The Bulldogs expanded the lead with a single run in the fourth inning, two runs in the fifth inning and another single run in the sixth inning.
In the fourth inning, an RBI single by Brandon Turner scored Russ Sneed, who had connected for a two-out double. In the fifth inning, Jason Nappi led off with a double. An infield error reached Tyler Moore and scored Nappi. Moore later scored on a sacrifice fly by Cody Freeman. In the sixth inning, Turner did the damage again. The Bulldogs’ leading hitter from a season ago, hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to up the advantage to 8-2.
That would be more than enough offense for senior left-hander Justin Pigott. Pigott worked the first five innings to win his 2008 debut. The MSU tri-captain allowed five hits and two runs (both earned) while walking three and striking out nine. Fellow tri-captain John Lalor followed in relief to start the sixth inning. True freshman left-hander Forrest Moore relieved Lalor to start the seventh inning. Senior left-hander Andy Wilson pitched the final inning for the Bulldogs. MSU pitching struck out 15 UNF batters in the contest.
A total of four Bulldogs made their first MSU start Friday afternoon. Junior college transfer Tyler Moore made his first start at first base. Red-shirt freshman Jason Nappi drew a start as the designated hitter. True freshmen Cody Freeman and Ryan Collins started at catcher and left fielder respectively.
The Bulldogs totaled 10 hits, including three hits by Turner and two hits apiece by Sneed and Rice.
The Bulldogs and Ospreys resume their three-game weekend series with a noon CT start Saturday afternoon. That contest will be played on the UNF campus at Harmon Stadium. The Bulldogs are scheduled to start junior right-hander Chad Crosswhite in the Saturday game. That contest may be heard locally on WFCA-FM and also via the Internet through M2M. The series concludes with another noon start on Sunday.