2-1 Victory Seals State's Sixth Series of Season, Maintains Pace in SEC West Standings

TUSCALOOSA – Give Konnor Pilkington credit. For true freshman he’s already sounding like a grizzled veteran. Not even a career-long 5.2 innings and seven strikeouts against Alabama excited this kid. “It’s just another outing, honestly,” Pilkington said. “Just go out there and compete.”

Honestly, it was more than another appearance for the rookie lefthander. It was a rubber game, after the host Crimson Tide rallied in the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader for a 4-3 win. If Mississippi State was to keep pace in the SEC West and stay on a NCAA Regional hosting track, this was not just another outing.

Pilkington was the right Dog for the moment as it played out. He gave State five scoreless innings and left with a 2-1 lead that LHP Daniel Brown preserved. “Pilkington really set the tone for us,” LF Reid Humphreys said.

This longest stint, so far, of the freshman’s season was best in most aspects. Pilkington (2-1) only allowed three hits, and just two of those were well-hit. He limited walks to a pair, in the first and fourth innings; and he fanned seven. Against an Alabama order that had gained confidence in their preceding comeback, Pilkington had the right (left?) stuff to shut them down and nearly out.

“Slider and fastball, I was just kind of mixing. I haven’t really done that much in the past but tonight I made a point to mix pitches and go, what, 5.2 innings.”

Brown picked up his first save of the season with the last 1.1 turns, stranding the tying and lead runs in the sixth and sitting all three-faced in the seventh. The game was shortened per SEC rule after Friday’s washout of play in Tuscaloosa.

But the early Saturday contest went nine innings until State broke a 2-2 tie, then lost their lead in the same final frame with a walk-off hit for the final score. It could have been a gutting setback.

It wasn’t.

“We have some really competitive kids,” Coach John Cohen said. “And Pilkington is one of those guys. He wants the baseball.”

Pilkington got mostly-excellent defense behind him as well. The lone Bulldog error, in the fourth with one on and no outs, resulted in no damage. Pilkington shrugged it off with a grounder and called strikeout to keep State’s 2-0 lead at the time. He had also left a pair un-scored in the third with a swinging strikeout and fly ball.

Alabama starter Nick Eicholtz wasn’t shabby himself. If not for some timely Bulldog contact in the second inning it could have been an even more intense contest. With one out DH Brent Rooker drove one to the left-centerfield track. Hunter Webb was in position and simply let the ball go off his glove for a two-base error.

Humphreys singled Rooker in, and was scored as well with a two-out single by SS Ryan Gridley. It would prove all the offense State needed with Pilkington keeping control.

He also had a one-hit shutout into the sixth, the lone safety a bunt-single in the third inning. The second single was by Georgie Salem to lead off the bottom of the sixth. Pilkington had to jump back to the left side of the mound to field a comebacker for an out at first base as Salem took second base. He scored on Chance Vincent’s two-out single.

This was Brown’s cue, even with a switch-hitter up. He walked Cody Henry to put the tying runner on second, but burned a 94mph fastball at the letters for a swinging strikeout of Keith Holcombe to leave both.

And in the last chance Brown dominated with a swinging strikeout, a line-out to left, and pop fly. “Daniel came in and just pitched super for us.”

Eicholtz (3-2) took the loss on 6.0 innings with the two runs on four hits, a walk and five strikeouts. Thomas Burrows threw an in-order top of the seventh. State only had four hits and Humphreys accounted for two of them with a RBI and run scored.

Players would say the first game had no impact on the second, though it might have—Pilkington actually warmed-up towards the end for left-hand relief. That would have made picking a pitcher interesting indeed for the second game.

The larger takeaway was how Bulldogs put the frustration instantly aside and took care of the rubber game. “We didn’t really change our outlook because they got a walk-off,” Humphreys said. “We knew we were in position to win and weren’t worried about anything else.”

At 30-14-1 and 12-9 SEC they are even with Ole Miss in the West behind Texas A&M, whose series at Arkansas began with a loss and was being played as State finished. The Rebels took two from visiting LSU.

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