If you’re a fan of good pitching, Friday’s Mississippi State-Southern Miss series opener should be a treat.
The two games begin a highly anticipated three-game series at 4 p.m. on Friday at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg. All three games have been sold out.
East Central product Konnor Pilkington, who is projected by many to be a first-round pick in this year’s Major League draft, will resume his role as MSU’s Friday night starter. The junior left-hander was 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA last year.
The man on the hill for Southern Miss will be junior right-hander Nick Sandlin, who has been outstanding as the Golden Eagles’ closer the last two seasons. The All-American was 10-2 with a 2.38 ERA and eight saves in 29 appearances a year ago.
While Pilkington is no stranger to the starting role, Friday’s game will mark the first career start for Sandlin. He has 13 career victories, but all of them have come out of the bullpen.
The change shouldn’t require a major adjustment for Sandlin, who has made a habit of putting together lengthy outings in relief.
The Golden Eagles will take the field with plenty of motivation after losing consecutive games to Mississippi State, 8-1 and 8-6, on the final day of the 2017 Hattiesburg Regional to prevent the program from reaching just its second Super Regional.
The rest of the rotation
1 p.m., Saturday — It will be a battle of left-handers on Saturday with junior Stevie Powers getting the call for USM and 6-foot-3, 208-pound redshirt sophomore Ethan Small receiving the start for the Bulldogs. Powers has some starting experience, but his 2017 campaign was mostly spent in the bullpen. He finished 3-0 with a 5.13 ERA in 30 appearances, including two starts.
Small sat out last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but MSU head coach Andy Cannizaro has high expectations for the native Tennessean. Small had a 13.06 ERA over 10.1 innings in 15 appearances in 2016.
1 p.m., Sunday — Junior right-hander J.C. Keys will be Sunday’s starting pitcher for USM while Mississippi State will counter with redshirt senior Jacob Billingsley. Keys, who was 3-3 with a 5.56 ERA last year, will look to replicate his success from late last season. Billingsley played a big role in allowing MSU to take down USM on the final day of the Hattiesburg Regional last year. He gave up one run on six hits in a complete-game victory over the Golden Eagles to force another game. It was Billingsley’s best game of the season as he finished 2-3 with a 4.78 ERA in 16 appearances.
A look at the lineups
USM has a slight edge in terms of overall experience in its starting nine, but center fielder Jake Mangum should again lead a potent MSU lineup.
Here are projections for the starting nine for both teams entering Friday’s games:
Mississippi State — P: Pilkington, C: Marshall Gilbert, 1B: Josh Hatcher, 2B: Hunter Stovall, SS: Luke Alexander, 3B: Tanner Allen, LF: Rowdey Jordan, CF: Mangum, RF: Elijah MacNamee, DH: Hunter Vansau. (From Joel Coleman of the Starkville Daily News)
Southern Miss — P: Sandlin, C: Cole Donaldson, 1B: Hunter Slater, 2B: Matthew Guidry, SS: LeeMarcus Boyd, 3B: Luke Reynolds, LF: Mason Irby, CF: Jaylon Keys, RF: Matt Wallner. DH: Daniel Keating.
USM’s players to watch
Matt Wallner had an incredible freshman season in the outfield for the Golden Eagles, hitting .336 with 19 homers and 63 RBIs to become a consensus All-American. The sophomore outfielder/pitcher will again have a home in the middle of the lineup and seems likely to make an appearance out of the bullpen.
Luke Reynolds will replace Taylor Braley, who is now in the Miami Marlins system, at third base. The junior has a good glove and can hit for both power and average. The Mississippi State transfer will be interesting to watch this weekend in his debut at USM.
Jaylon Keys sat out last season with an injury, but seems likely to start in center field Friday night. He may be the leadoff hitter for the Golden Eagles and the pressure will be on him to get on base.
MSU’s players to watch
Jake Mangum, a junior from Pearl, will be in center field Friday night. He was a Second-Team All-SEC selection last season, batting .324 with 51 runs scored.
Hunter Stovall, a junior second baseman, played a solid second base for the Bulldogs last year. He hit .288 with 30 runs scored.
Elijah MacNamee, a junior right fielder, will need to improve on his .267 batting average and two homers from a year ago. At 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, he’ll need to generate more power from the left side of the plate
How to watch
The only way to watch this weekend’s Southern Miss-Mississippi State baseball series is to subscribe to C-USA TV in order to watch it online.
You can purchase a 24-hour pass for $6.95 or set up a monthly recurring subscription that costs $10.95. The monthly subscription renews from month to month, but can be canceled at anytime.
The yearly pass for C-USA TV is $99.95.
You can follow live updates and read full game coverage from all three contests in Hattiesburg at SunHerald.com.
Who: Southern Miss vs. Mississippi State
When: 4 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday, 1 p.m. on Sunday
Where: Pete Taylor Park, Hattiesburg
Radio: WPMO 1580-AM
TV: C-USA TV (subscription service)