MSU baseball to start postseason in Hattiesburg Regional

Mississippi State pitcher Peyton Plumlee
Staff Writer

There’s no place like home, but for Mississippi State, its 2017 NCAA Tournament draw might just be the next best thing.
The Bulldogs learned on Monday they’ll be staying instate this weekend as MSU will be a No. 2 seed in the Hattiesburg Regional hosted by Southern Mississippi. The Bulldogs will begin its postseason run on Friday with a 6 p.m. game against third-seeded South Alabama.
“We’re extremely excited, very blessed and fortunate to be going to the postseason,” Mississippi State first-year head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “Our guys performed at an extremely high level all year and this is a reward for their hard work so far.
“We love the fact that we’re still playing. We love the fact that we’re going right to Hattiesburg. That gives our fans the opportunity to get into the ballpark and gives our fans the chance to be there, support us and do everything we can to continue to show the country we have the greatest fans in college baseball.”
Though the Bulldogs are happy to be staying inside the borders of the Magnolia State, the field at the Hattiesburg Regional is anything but a cakewalk.
MSU (36-24) is already familiar with two of the teams there.
The Bulldogs faced their Friday night opponent, South Alabama (39-19), three times this season. They won two out of three from the Jaguars in the regular season.
“After three games, you get to know your opponent fairly well,” MSU’s Jake Mangum said of South Alabama. “You’ve seen a lot of their bullpen, a lot of their starting pitching and you’ve been through the lineup nine or 10 times now. So we know South Alabama pretty well and they know us pretty well so it’s going to be a good one.”
MSU battled and lost to the hosts, Southern Miss (48-14), in a midweek game in Pearl earlier this year.
“They’ve had an incredible season,” Cannizaro said of the Golden Eagles. “I think they have the most wins in the history of their program. They’re extremely talented.”
The Bulldogs have never faced fourth-seeded University of Illinois at Chicago (39-15).
State enters the regional after going 2-2 last week at the Southeastern Conference Tournament. That event concluded a regular season that saw the Bulldogs sitting at the top of the SEC standings before a two-week slide in which MSU lost its final five conference games ended any hopes of a league championship.
The Bulldogs say the late-year struggles are all in the past now though and its a new season.
“I love our opportunity to go over there, play at a high level and continue to pick our games up another notch,” Cannizaro said.
MSU hasn’t yet revealed any pitching plans for the weekend. Ace left-hander Konnor Pilkington would be the expected starter for the Bulldogs’ Friday night game, but sometimes teams in State’s position hold back their best pitcher for a possible matchup against the top-seeded team later in the regional.
Cannizaro said that very scenario is at least on the table for MSU.
“That’s definitely going to be a staff discussion,” Cannizaro said. “We wanted to see where we were going and who we were matched up with before we made any type of announcements in terms of pitching staff or rotation.”
Pilkington said he’s ready for whatever his coaches decide.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Pilkington said. “Whenever they tell me to roll out there, I’m going to roll out there and give 110 percent effort and leave it all on the field.”
Whoever comes out of the Hattiesburg Regional will face the winner of the Baton Rouge Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional series with a trip to the College World Series on the line. That’s all in the future though. The Bulldogs aren’t even remotely looking ahead.
The challenges awaiting MSU in Hattiesburg already have its hands full.
“In terms of looking at the whole regional, we legitimately just want to take it one game at a time right now,” Cannizaro said.