Junior lefty Konnor Pilkington has been the Mississippi State ace all season long, but he won’t be the first man on the round for the Bulldogs in the Hattiesburg Regional.
Head coach Andy Cannizaro is taking a bit of a risk and going with junior right-hander Cole Gordon at 6 p.m. Friday night against South Alabama in the Bulldogs’ opener at Pete Taylor Park.
Pilkington is confident Gordon will set the Bulldogs (36-24) up for success this weekend.
“I’m fine with it,” the former East Central star said. “Cole is gonna throw tomorrow, give it all he’s got. He’s one of the better pitchers in the SEC. I’m really comfortable with him facing South Alabama and me going against whoever we play next. He’ll go out there, give it all he’s got and come out with a W.”
Gordon is 2-2 with a 4.59 ERA in 16 appearances, including seven starts this season.
Cannizaro feels like he’s going with the hot hand against a South Alabama squad that’s batting .308 this season.
“Cole has had some terrific outings this year,” Cannizaro said. “His last four or five outings have been phenomenal. He throws three pitches for strikes at all times. He’s probably one of the biggest competitors on the team. In the SEC tournament, he threw 7 shutout innings against Florida and gave us a chance to beat those guys. He is a guy we have the utmost confidence in right now.”
Cannizaro hasn’t mentioned it, but he also has to like the idea of potentially throwing Pilkington on Saturday against a Southern Miss team that features one of the more dangerous lineups in the nation with a .311 batting average and 85 homers.
USM has had more success against right-handers than lefties this season.
USM (48-14) will play Illinois-Chicago (39-15) at 1 p.m. on Friday to open the Hattiesburg Regional.
The lefty from Hurley
The 6-foot-3 Pilkington had a strong sophomore season, going 7-5 with a 3.13 ERA in 15 starts. He has 98 strikeouts and 41 walks in 95 innings.
Aside from a bumpy outing in a 9-2 loss at Texas A&M on May 5, Pilkington has proven steady throughout the season.
“I think my big thing was being able to throw my curve ball for strikes and being able to locate my fast ball better,” Pilkington said Thursday at Pete Taylor Park. “I’m 95 pitches deep going into the regional. I feel pretty comfortable with all my pitches.”
Pilkington, who was the 2015 Sun Herald Player of the Year, has come a long way from his days as a lanky lefty at East Central. He’s put on plenty of muscle in the weight room in Starkville.
“Coach (Brian) Neal really pushes me and I’ve pushed myself,” Pilkington said. “My body has changed a lot since high school. Even from last year, I’ve shifted a lot of weight around, lost fat and gained muscle. I’m really maturing physically.”
That added strength boosted his fastball, which was already hard to handle with plenty of movement.
“In my senior year of high school, I’d say my fastball hit 87-89,” he said. “I hit 96 this year against LSU. My speed has been up and down this year whether it’s on five days rest or a week of rest. I’m on 10 days rest now so there’s no telling what my velocity is going to be. It doesn’t matter. It’s more location than speed in this league. At this point in time in the playoffs, anything can happen. They’re all good teams and they can hit speed.”
Pilkington looks forward to having his family in the stands on Friday.
“It’ll be crazy,” Pilkington said. “You have Mississippi State fans, Southern Miss fans and South Alabama fans. I’ll have a lot of family come up from the Coast and everything. It’s going to get rowdy here.”