MSU set to have all hands on deck for baseball series against Auburn

Staff Writer

Another all-hands-on-deck weekend begins Friday night for Mississippi State.
The No. 8 Bulldogs (29-14, 13-5) welcome the No. 5 Auburn Tigers (30-13, 12-6) to Dudy Noble Field for a three-game series that begins Friday night at 6:30 p.m. With that, MSU is planning to do what it has done all season long – win, despite adverse circumstances caused by injuries and more.
“We talk all the time about it being all hands on deck right now,” MSU first-year head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “Who can help Mississippi State win baseball games? If there is a role for you, with the number of guys we have on our team, you are going to get an opportunity.”
Cannizaro’s mantra was perhaps never more evident than last weekend against Alabama. Brant Blaylock, an outfielder who prior to last week hadn’t pitched since he was in high school three years ago, earned the win on the mound in the Bulldogs’ marathon, 13-inning win over the Crimson Tide in the series finale, solidifying an MSU sweep. The crazy thing is, Blaylock earned his new job simply by volunteering a couple of months ago.
“We had so many pitchers that were hurt, so we were in a hitters’ meeting and I just kind of threw the question out there," Cannizaro said. "I said, ‘Guys, this is a serious, real question. Who can pitch? Is there anybody in this room right now that can go get us some innings and would like to start throwing bullpens? Who pitched in high school? Who had a really good high school career as a pitcher?' Blaylock was the first guy to raise his arm and was like, ‘I can get them out.’”
About 45 minutes after raising his hand, Blaylock was throwing a bullpen in front of MSU pitching coach Gary Henderson.
“(Henderson) came back and was like, ‘Hey, that was pretty good,’” Cannizaro said.
Blaylock has continued to throw bullpens ever since, ready for situations like last weekend’s. That’s just where this MSU team is right now. With more than a dozen players out with injury, dealing with injury, no longer with the team or gone for good, Cannizaro and the Bulldogs have found success in unorthodox ways with unlikely heroes.
They’ll try to keep it up against an Auburn team that is tied for second in the Southeastern Conference, just one game behind Mississippi State.
“Our goal is to win the weekend and do everything we can to keep our momentum going,” Cannizaro said. “It’s going to be a really big challenge for us. We are looking forward to the opportunity to face those guys. We talk all the time about competing in the SEC. It doesn’t matter the name of the school or the mascot. Doesn’t matter if it’s Auburn or Alabama or LSU or Texas A&M. Everybody in the league has outstanding starting pitching and outstanding position players that can hit and run and defend.
“This is just the next challenge that our group has this weekend.”
Like MSU, Auburn has lost just one SEC series all season. In fact, the Tigers have lost just one weekend series all season long. The man leading that charge is former MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson. Thompson is now in his second year as the head coach at Auburn and several of his former players will be looking forward to reconnecting with their former mentor this weekend.
Still, that won’t get in the way of business says MSU pitcher Konnor Pilkington.
“I love coach Thompson, but it’s just going to be another game and another team," Pilkington said.
It’s another game and another team, so it’s another chance for the Bulldogs to keep beating the odds by whatever means necessary.
“We talk about taking it back to the USSSA days where there were 12 guys on a team and everybody hit and everybody pitched and everybody played every day,” Cannizaro said. “Our team has done a great job of embracing that part of all that this year. We have position players that are starting SEC weekend games on the mound. We have position players playing positions they never have before. We have pitchers pinch-hitting. We have all kinds of crazy stuff going on.
“It’s a blast to be around every day. Our guys have really embraced the challenge this year and they’ve stepped up and they bring it each and every day.”