State's Gordon enjoys being valuable piece of the bullpen

Cole Gordon, left, and MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum
Staff Writer

It wasn’t long ago when Cole Gordon was sporting a mullet and an American flag bandanna in the Mississippi State dugout while leading rally cheers and cutting up as the Bulldogs won a Southeastern Conference Championship in 2016.

Along the way there were opportunities for the big 6-5, 240-pounder to show off the pop in his bat and he had some big hits like a game-winner on the road at Vanderbilt as a freshman. He also smashed a pinch-hit home run at Southern Miss a year ago in the NCAA regionals.

Now, Gordon spends all of his time coming in with the pressure on and getting those big bats out. It’s a stark contrast to the happy-go-lucky times in the dugout and the opportunities to knock one in the gap or over the fence at the plate.   

“The hardest part is watching batting practice while I run,” Gordon joked. “I miss it sometimes, but I’m just focused on pitching. So much goes into both of them and it’s kind of been new to put all my time into pitching. Every day there’s something to figure out but it’s been fun.”

Over time, Gordon has developed the mentality and the prowess on the mound to help his team beyond just cheering them on in the dugout. This season is his first as a full-time pitcher even though he started or relieved most of the season a year ago helping the Bulldogs to a second-straight super regional.

This year he’s been a huge reason down the stretch that they overcame super regional sadness and punched a ticket to Omaha. He’s thrown 53.2 innings this season with 63 strikeouts and a 4.86 earned run average, but his work in the postseason has been a large part of their movement forward.

In the last three games against Oklahoma in an elimination game, Vanderbilt in Friday’s game one of the super regional and the game three on Sunday, Gordon threw a combined 13 innings giving up 10 hits, four runs and he struck out 20 batters.

Both appearances against the Commodores were critical. Gordon entered the game in trouble both times and threw 3.1 innings on Friday with three strikeouts and 3.2 innings on Sunday with seven. He didn’t give up a run in either of the contests and allowed just three hits total.

“Cole Gordon was the MVP of the regional," MSU outfielder Jake Mangum said. "What he did was he got us to Omaha. Cole Gordon allowed us to be in this situation. He took the ball in game one and game three with confidence and he did everything he had to do for us to win the series.”

All of that is a little surreal to Gordon, who doesn’t plan on taking that credit, either. State interim coach Gary Henderson will oblige. He’s been one of Gordon’s biggest fans the last two seasons and has continued to trust in him to get outs.

He put Gordon in on Sunday of the Florida series, before going to Zach Neff or Riley Self, and he delivered two shutdown innings. He went back to him after he gave up three runs without recording an out against Oklahoma and Gordon pitched six innings against the Sooners to allow State to save the bullpen.

“There’s a lot of times that I wasn’t throwing it well and I was getting hit," Gordon said. "The fact that he stayed with me and instilled confidence in me, it means everything. It means I get to keep pitching and keep playing. What he’s done for me and for this pitching staff, it’s amazing.”

What’s working best for the big right-hander right now? He likes the break he’s getting on his curveball and cut fastball and it’s getting past hitter for swings and misses as evidence in the seven strikeouts he recorded Sunday.

As he’s developed as a pitcher, it’s also allowed him to think about his future. Gordon took part in senior day festivities as a junior during the last weekend of the season. He said this week that he’s thought about returning to the team but he’s still considering his options on his life moving forward.

For now, he’s going to focus on continuing to play with the team that he loves.

“I love being on this team," Gordon said. "There are a lot of younger guys and a lot of older guys. It’s a dynamic that’s cool to see and it’s fun to see this team develop. We had a lot of people count us out, but what we’ve been able to do is exciting.

“We can’t really bring our emotions into words. All I can say is that we’ve been together through everything and this program is so much bigger than a single person or a single coach. Whatever happens, we have 30 guys in there ready to lay it on the line every day.

“The last two years we’ve been to super regionals and it hurts to come up short. Knowing that feeling, being able to push through and have a chance to win it all, it really is a blessing.”