By Gregg Ellis
STARKVILLE - It was the perfect baseball opener.
Impressive pitching. A ton of hits. Solid defense. A lot of guys played, including five that made their debut. And, of course, an easy win where the outcome was never in doubt.
Friday afternoon in front of an energetic crowd of 1,804 at Dudy Noble Field, Mississippi State cruised past Marist 9-3 to win its seventh opener in 11 years.
Game 2 of this three-game set is scheduled for noon today.
"We wanted to get more guys in, but we couldn't extend the lead enough," MSU skipper Ron Polk said. "But believe me, there were a lot of nervous guys. But I kept telling people Marist is not a bad ball club. They are athletic. They've been to five regionals since 1997 and have won their conference three out of the last four years."
Still, this day belonged to MSU as pitcher Brooks Dunn set the tone early for the No. 11-ranked Bulldogs (Baseball America), while the offense followed suit.
Dunn, a senior lefty from Birmingham, retired the first 11 batters he faced and didn't allow a base runner until the fourth when Adam Pernasilici hit a solo shot over the left-center wall to end the perfect outing.
By that time, though, MSU was already up 7-0.
Three of those runs came in the first inning, the first on a RBI single by Thomas Berkery and two on a home run by Brad Jones.
Berkery led the Bulldogs at the plate with four hits and had his team's other home run in the fourth. Also with multiple hits were Jones and Jeff Butts with two each. On a night where 18 MSU players saw action, the Bulldogs totaled 14 hits, six for extra bases.
"It was a good night," Berkery said. "Everybody was locked in. It feels good to come in and swing like we did. It was exciting to get rolling like that."
Dunn admitted State's offensive production early made it easy for him on the mound.
And based on his stats, it was easy.
In six innings, he allowed just three runs off five hits, struck out five and walked none against 23 batters faced. He had a pitch count limit of 75, but threw just 69.
"When you get three runs like that in the first, a high school kid could come in and pitch like that," Dunn laughed.
When asked if he was nervous about being the starter on opening day, he responded by saying, "I tried to play it cool in the locker room and not look nervous. Of course, I was nervous. But you need to be to feed off of that."
Pitching in relief for MSU were Chad Crosswhite and Trent Hill.
Crosswhite threw two innings and didn't allow a hit while striking out three of the seven batters he faced. Hill pitched the final inning and collected one strike out.
Jonathan Smith was charged with the loss. In just two innings, he allowed seven runs on seven hits, all earned, and struck out two. He also issued two walks.