Back on field: Bulldogs open baseball season

MSU pitcher Konnor Pilkington
Staff Writer

Konnor Pilkington will take the mound later Friday as the Opening Day starter for the Mississippi State Bulldogs when they host Texas Tech at 4 p.m.
Yet when the sophomore lefty climbs the hill at Dudy Noble Field to deliver the season’s first pitch, don’t expect to see any nerves despite moving from his Sunday starter role of last year to the front of MSU’s pitching rotation.
“It’s just getting the ball first instead of last,” Pilkington said. “Pitching on a Friday, you use the same competitive nature. Pressure is just a word. It really hasn’t bothered me too much over the years.”
When pressed, Pilkington admits his heart rate will likely be a little higher than normal today. The butterflies will be there. However, no one watching will likely be able to tell.
That’s part of the reason the 6-foot-3, 225-pound southpaw is in this spot. In his brief career, Pilkington has seemingly never let the big stage get to him.
In his very first collegiate appearance last season, he threw two hitless innings. Three weeks later, he made his first career start and pitched five shutout innings with six strikeouts.
In mid-April, Pilkington made his first-ever start in a Southeastern Conference game when he pitched four scoreless frames to help the Bulldogs claim a series win on the road at Florida.
When new MSU head coach Andy Cannizaro considered Pilkington’s resume and then saw with his own eyes over the last few months what Pilkington could do, he knew who he wanted to lead his pitching staff.
“He’s going to run his fastball up to 93 or 94 miles per hour with a plus breaking ball and a swing and miss changeup,” Cannizaro said or Pilkington. “He’s an innings-eater, workhorse type of guy. He pounds the strike zone. He’s a guy, in my opinion and the opinion of the coaching staff, that will be the next great Mississippi State pitcher. He’s only a sophomore so we’re going to have him for the next two years and I think he’s going to have a chance to leave here next year as a high, first-round (Major League Baseball) draft pick guy.”
Behind Pilkington, Cannizaro will give right-hander Peyton Plumlee the starting assignment against Western Illinois on Saturday at 4 p.m., while Ryan Cyr will start against Texas Tech on Sunday at 3 p.m. MSU hasn’t yet announced a starting pitcher for Sunday’s noon game against Western Illinois.
Cannizaro insists his Saturday and Sunday starters might change throughout the year based on the opponent and what pitcher is feeling and performing the best.
However there is no question at this point who stands at the top of State’s pitching crop and will have the chance to get the Bulldogs’ season off on the right foot facing a Texas Tech team that is coming off a College World Series appearance last year along with currently sporting a No. 14 national ranking by D1Baseball.
Pilkington is thrilled to take the baseball for the opener, just don’t think much of it if he doesn’t look too excited out there.
“I’m just a south Mississippi boy and I’ve always had a calm demeanor about me,” Pilkington said. “Even if I’m jittering inside, I just like to stay calm, cool and collected.
“(Today) it’s just going to be baseball. I’m just going to go out there and it’s going to be the same baseball, the same mound and the same plate. I just have to go out there, execute pitches and everything will take care of itself.”