Patrick Magee

There’s elite and there’s Mississippi elite. Two of college baseball’s aces call state home.

Nick Sandlin of Southern Miss and Konnor Pilkington of Mississippi State are posting some unreal pitching stats this season.
Nick Sandlin of Southern Miss and Konnor Pilkington of Mississippi State are posting some unreal pitching stats this season. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com file

It’s no surprise to see Nick Sandlin and Konnor Pilkington putting together outstanding seasons for their respective teams, but the numbers they’re putting up are beyond what even the most optimistic baseball fans could have hoped for.

If you were on hand for the Mississippi State-Southern Miss season opener in Hattiesburg on Feb. 16, you were witness to two of the nation’s top college pitchers going at it on the same field.

Sandlin, a junior right-hander, got the upper hand that night in an 11-0 win for the Golden Eagles, but the losing pitcher, Pilkington, continues to live up his status as a top left-handed prospect for the 2018 MLB Draft.

Pilkington, also a junior, leads the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 21.50 with 43 strikeouts and only a pair of walks.

Sandlin is not far behind in that category at No. 4 with a ratio of 18.33 — a whopping 55 strikeouts with three walks.

Mowing them down

Sandlin’s 55 K’s rank second in the nation, trailing only Shane McClanahan’s 56 at South Florida. McClanahan is considered another top left-handed prospect that regularly hits the mid-90’s with his fastball.

While Sandlin may not have quite the pop of McClanahan, his fastball still has plenty of zip and tops out at around 93.

MSU star outfielder Jake Mangum best summed up what makes Sandlin so effective following the season opener.

“For righties, it’s tough,” he said. “Hitting is all about timing. What he did really well is he kept us off timing. He threw three pitches for strikes and changed arm slots. If you do that and are throwing 93, good things are going to happen.”

Mississippi State offered praise for Southern Miss right-handed Nick Sandlin after the Eagles’ 11-0 win.

Sandlin stands at 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in 34 innings over five starts for a USM squad that is 14-4 and is 2-0 to start Conference USA play.

A little help?

Pilkington’s record is far from impressive at 1-2 through five starts, but that’s by no means his fault. Only in one game this season has the East Central product received more than one run of support in the innings he’s been on the mound. The Bulldogs gave Pilkington five runs in five innings during a 7-4 win over UC-Santa Barbara on Feb. 23.

In Pilkington’s 24 other innings this season, the Bulldogs have totaled just two runs of support. MSU has twice been shut out in games that Pilkington started — at USM and in a 5-0 loss to Vanderbilt in Starkville last week.

The 6-foot-3 lefty has a 1.55 ERA for a Mississippi State team that sits at 10-10 overall and 0-3 in SEC play.

The most important step forward this season for Pilkington has been his improved control. He walked 32 in 61 innings last season. Through 29 innings this year, he has just the two.

Pilkington has long relied on a fastball that has wicked movement and the fact that he can now better control that pitch has to have pro scouts drooling.

He was often effectively wild as a young pitcher and one good example of that was a no-hitter he threw as a junior at East Central when he struck out 18 Pascagoula batters, walked five and hit four more.

Sandlin also occasionally lost his control while he worked out of the bullpen in his first two seasons at USM. He once hit four consecutive FAU batters as a sophomore.

The conversion from closer to starter has been seamless for Sandlin and the routine of pitching once a week has allowed him to be more focused.

With super sophomore Ryan Rolison (3-2, 2.37) anchoring the staff at Ole Miss (19-2, 2-1), there is plenty of good pitching to go around for college baseball fans in Mississippi.

Sandlin and Rolison just happen to have the bats to back them up while Pilkington has to hope the run support will come around at some point.

At the moment, no two college pitchers are more efficient than Sandlin and Pilkington.

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