Bulldogs Blank South Alabama 2-0 Behind Sophomore Southpaw

Konnor Pilkington had almost his complete repertoire working. Almost, he said. “Everything besides the changeup. I threw it one time tonight and he about knocked over the left-field fence.”

Only about, fortunately. That deep drive stayed inside the fence to be caught. Pilkington did just fine using everything else in the arsenal to shut South Alabama down and out in a 2-0 Mississippi State victory.

The lefthander made this fourth start of his sophomore season easily the best so far. Certainly so from a strikeout standpoint, as Pilkington fanned a career-high 13 batters out of 30 Jaguars faced. He put in 7.2-plus innings with just four hits allowed before handing the shutout over to his bullpen to keep.

“The story of the night was Konnor Pilkington,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “Just an outstanding job of working ahead, 0-1 and 1-2 all night. He had all three pitches working.”

Well, all but that very brief test of the change-ball that LF Brant Blaylock ran down in the fifth. South Alabama had trouble making solid contact on much anything else Pilkington (2-2) threw their way…if contact was made at all. Ten of those 13 strikeouts were fannings as he moved his fastball in and out and came back with a breaker as needed. Only once did Pilkington go as many as three batters without striking out somebody.

“I think I was mixing up real good, putting the fastball on both sides of the plate. The two-seam down and in on lefties and four-seam away. And sneaking the curveball in there when I needed it.”

Obviously Mississippi State didn’t need much offensive support for such potent pitching. Still Pilkington was happy to get a little immediately after sitting the Jaguar side in the first. CF Jake Mangum led off the Bulldog batting with a bunt-single on the first pitch. A walk of 3B Luke Alexander moved the lead runner over, then both advanced on SS Ryan Gridley’s sacrifice.

DH Brent Rooker did the RBI honors with a ground ball to the right side scoring Mangum.

“Offensively we did a really good in the first inning manufacturing a run,” Cannizaro said. “It’s 1-0 four batters into the ball game and a really good feeling to play with a win tonight, to settle into the game.”

That lone run had to hold into the bottom-sixth when South Alabama starter Thomas Huston walked Rooker to open the inning. RF Elijah MacNamee went other-way for a single to right, and it fell to pinch-batter 1B Cody Brown to do the sacrificing this time.

South Alabama intentionally walked Blaylock for forces everywhere and it nearly worked as C Dustin Skelton bounced to the shortstop. Blaylock was out but the relay was high enough to pull first baseman Wells Davis off so Skelton could reach as Rooker made it 2-0.

Pilkington’s rare challenges were a two-out errored grounder in the second; leadoff singles in the third and fourth; and a two-out swinging strikeout dropped by Skelton in the fifth. That only allowed Pilkington to pad his total with another strikeout to strand that runner.

The starter finally ran down after the 100-pitch mark. A one-out walk of the nine-hole Jaguar in the eighth, and a two-out single had the tying runners on. Pilkington threw two balls to .472 hitter Travis Swaggerty before LHP Trysten Barlow took over and finished the walk—charged to Pilkington’s account as his only free pass all evening.

Barlow negated it with a swinging strikeout of Wells to strand all three. RHP Spencer Price was given the ninth and handled it in-order with help. Mangum robbed Brendan Donovan of what off the bat looked like a sure fly-ball double. Mangum ran, slid, and backhanded in the right-side gap.

Price picked up his third save of the young season facing just the three batters. Huston went the eight-inning distance with six hits and three walks against six strikeouts of his own, and used fewer pitches than did Pilkington in the process. Rooker was the lone Dog with multiple hits in a 2-of-3 evening, while Mangum extended his hitting streak to 27 games.

Mississippi State (8-6) now can plan the next three games, and Saturday’s 1:00/4:00 twinbill, with as full a pitching staff as could be asked after a win. Cannizaro knows RHP Peyton Plumlee will start the later game, a rematch with South Alabama (8-6). He had not picked a starter for Columbia (0-4) as of this filing. The Lions lost 4-1 in Friday’s first game but South Alabama got the whole margin of their victory with three runs in the top of the ninth.

“When your starter pitches into the eighth inning on Friday it’s a great feeling knowing we’ve got all these bullets we can use and get to Sunday,” Cannizaro said.

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