Mississippi State

East Central's Pilkington delivering as freshman at Mississippi State

 Mississippi State freshman Konnor Pilkington, an East Central product, has thrown well for the Bulldogs this season.
KELLY PRICE/MSU ATHLETICS Mississippi State freshman Konnor Pilkington, an East Central product, has thrown well for the Bulldogs this season. Kelly Price/MS State Athletics

For the first three weekends of SEC baseball, the Mississippi State Bulldogs were dominant on Friday and Saturday.

MSU had already clinched the series by Saturday against No. 2 Vanderbilt, Georgia and No. 4 Ole Miss. Sunday reared its ugly head all three weeks.

Three Sundays in a row saw MSU lose the final game of the series to prevent the sweep. In those three games, the Bulldogs allowed 39 hits and 31 runs and put the pressure on their offense to out-score the other team.

Head coach John Cohen went through starters Daniel Brown and Keegan James, but neither could give MSU more than 2.2 innings. So the eighth-year skipper put the ball in the hands of a true freshman on April 10 at No. 1 Florida with the series on the line.

East Central alum Konnor Pilkington threw up four scoreless innings against one of the more potent lineups in the SEC. He gave up just three hits while striking out two batters and issued five walks.

"I just had to go about it like any other game," Pilkington said. "It wasn't really the outing that I wanted, other than coming out scoreless. I've got to cut down on walks and keep shoving it in the strike zone."

Mississippi State will play Louisiana-Monroe at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at MGM Park in Biloxi.

Pilkington's second weekend start didn't go as hoped in a 10-5 loss to Texas A&M on Sunday, but none of the Bulldogs' pitchers had much luck against the Aggies. MSU gave up 10 runs in each contest of the Aggies' three-game sweep in Starkville.

Pilkington left the game in the second inning Sunday, giving up two runs on five hits in one inning of work.

In Pilkington's win over Florida, the lefty received a boost from his defense.

Florida didn't score until the ninth inning and MSU's defense kept the Gators in check most of the ball game. Biloxi native Cody Brown gave Pilkington an early lift in the win over Florida by throwing out a runner at the plate.

"That was really big and a self esteem booster for me," Pilkington said. "When you have the defense that we have you've just got to keep throwing strikes and hold the running game."

Pilkington is 1-0 in eight appearances this season, including six starts. He has 21 strikeouts and 10 walks in 21 1/3 innings.

Cohen was happy with the performance from Pilkington against Florida, giving him a shot to return to the mound soon despite the bumpy outing against A&M.

"He went up there and just competed his heart out," Cohen said of the start against Florida. "We took him out in the fifth and he did not want to come out. He felt like he had a lot left in the tank which is exactly what you want. You want someone who wants to stay out there and keep competing for you.

"You have the luxury of watching the first two (games) and you look at who is the best matchup. We thought, clearly, that Pilkington was our best matchup against Florida. We'll wait and make that decision later on, but he's a prime candidate for Sunday."

Coming in with one of the top pitching classes in the country, the true freshman didn't know what to expect out of his first season. Now second on the team in ERA at 1.69 in 21 1/3 innings, the Coast product has shown that he's ready to step up in crucial situations.

"The crowd doesn't bother me," Pilkington said. "It's just me and the mitt. You can't be anything but excited, though. It's an opportunity and you've got to take advantage of those opportunity. An opportunity came this season and I'm just blessed to be where I'm at right now."