USM sweeps Bulldogs

HATTIESBURG – Ryan Belanger registered 10 strikeouts and limited MSU to three runs over 7 1-3 innings Wednesday night at Southern Mississippi (29-15) downed No. 17 Mississippi State (29-13) 6-3, completing a sweep of the two-game midweek series at Pete Taylor Park.

Belanger, in his first career start, gave up 11 hits, four in the second inning when the Bulldogs struck for two runs. Joseph McCaskill and Joseph Hunter opened the inning with base hits and Brad Jones and Jeff Butts delivered RBI singles.

But the Bulldogs would be held scoreless until the eighth when Mitch Moreland doubled and Jeff Butts reached on a fielding error that sent Moreland home.

USM bunched four hits in the second, tying the game on Trey Sutton’s two-run home run off MSU starter Josh Johnson (4-3) and plating another on doubles by Toddric Johnson and Michael Ewing.

The Golden Eagles expanded the lead in the fourth with three more runs. Jody Blount opened the frame with his sixth home run of the year, and USM parlayed four singles, a wild pitch, a failed pick-off throw at second base and a sacrifice fly to score two in the inning.

USM relief ace Daniel Best entered the game with two out and two runners on base in the eighth, retiring Jeffrey Rea on a first-pitch grounder to second to end the inning and then working around a fielding error in the ninth to earn his ninth save.

Rea, McCaskill, Hunter and Brad Jones had two hits each for the Bulldogs, while Toddric Johnson and Brian Dozier had three-hit games for USM.

Johnson allowed three runs on four hits with a walk and a strikeout in three innings of work. John Lalor was gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits in the fourth, while Chad Crosswhite, Justin Pigott and Brett Cleveland combined for four innings of shutout relief.

MSU stranded 11, leaving runners at second and third in both the third and seventh innings.

The Bulldogs resume SEC competition and close out their 2006 April schedule on the road this weekend, taking on 12th-ranked South Carolina in a three-game series at Sarge Frye Field. Friday’s series-opener in Columbia, S.C., is set for 6 p.m.