Diamond Dogs Still Seeking Successfull SEC Sunday Starter

Every SEC series is serious. This trip to Florida? This ramps up from merely serious to, as Konnor Pilkington puts it, “Very, very serious.”

And speaking of serious… Mississippi State’s visit to Gainesville could present Pilkington with a very, very serious opportunity. It’s not announced yet. Bulldog coaches want to combine video scouting of #1 ranked Florida with first-hand impressions.

Yet based on recent trends and immediate midweek evidence, it could be true freshman Pilkington taking the mound for Sunday’s 3:00ct start. And this rookie doesn’t waste time denying desire.

He wants the baseball.

“Yes sir, I do. I do actually. It’s up for grabs. But I really do want it.”

Good for Pilkington. Rather than aww-shucksing or whatever-the-coach-calls, he clearly is asking for what would be an intimidating responsibility to veteran SEC moundsmen. This is the top-ranked club in the country, on their home turf where they have won 28-straight games going back to 2015.

Were pitching Coach Wes Johnson to pick Pilkington, it would also be Mississippi State’s next test of a game-three SEC starter. The 2016 script so far has seen the Bulldogs win the first two contests with the strong right arms of Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton; then the third get away.

To be fair it’s not all the fault of starting and relief pitching. That’s just the easy and obvious angle to approach as Mississippi State seeks somebody to get game-threes going the right…or left…way. “The Sunday thing is still available,” Coach John Cohen said.

At least it was when Cohen and club boarded the bus early Thursday morning. There are pitchers with SEC game-three experience on the roster already. LHP Daniel Brown (2-2, 5.46) opened against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, and RHP Keegan James (2-0, 2.13) against Georgia. At the same time Cohen might have tipped his hand and plan Tuesday when Pilkington started against Tennessee-Martin…and was lifted after an inning.

Cohen said it’s because Pilkington (1-0, 1.17) is indeed being measured for this Sunday. “That’s why we gave him one inning. He goes through the whole day of starting and does his whole regimen. So it’s a start, even though it’s a short start. Potentially he could be our Sunday guy.”

Potentially is as much as the coach would promise. Pilkington himself reported Tuesday “Not much” has been said to him directly about this weekend. All he could do was take care of the start-routine and start itself, which State turned into a 14-0 blowout win.

“I felt great. Actually, one of my better-feeling evenings of the year. I just go out there and do my thing.”

Pilkington’s thing has been pretty good so far. He was promoted to the important (in NCAA and RPI and SOS terms) midweek starting role back on March 15 for just his third college outing. Pilkington didn’t get a decision on 4.0 innings against Eastern Kentucky, fortunately as State lost it.

A week later, the win was his on 5.0 innings against Mississippi Valley State with six strikeouts and no walks. Sure, it was a bad SWAC order he faced, so the next test told more. Pilkington passed. He went 3.1 to get a 13-5 win over Southern Mississippi started with five hits, two runs (one earned) and four strikeouts.

Again, he didn’t walk anyone, which is really why Johnson is putting increased faith in the kid. Mississippi State needs a Sunday strike-thrower and Pilkington isn’t shy sticking it in the zone.

Interestingly, for just how very-very serious a weekend role would be, Pilkington approached lightweight UTM just as he would the Gators.

“You have to take every outing very seriously, no matter the case. You just go out there and do what you know to do. And that’s throw the baseball.”

Come Sunday, perhaps Pilkington will have his chance to throw it on the really big stage in this top-five showdown series.


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