Every year the Mississippi State Bulldogs play in a Regional, the coach faces the same question. Should he start the ace in Game 1 to give the team the best chance to win the first game, or does he hold the ace until Game 2 to give the team the best chance to win the entire regional, but making the risk of a Game 1 loss greater?
In his first regional as a head coach, Andy Cannizaro has made the decision to take the latter. Cole Gordon and not Konnor Pilkington will start Friday against South Alabama. Some agree with this decision and others don’t. I’m on board with it.
This is a slightly unusual situation for the Bulldogs as they enter the Regional. Due to the injuries to the pitching staff, no one outside of Pilkington was able to establish a role as the number two starter on the team. A number of players have given it a shot, but no one emerged to take control of the role. Andy Cannizaro looked at his staff and asked himself who he thought could get the potent Southern Miss lineup out if the Bulldogs face the Golden Eagles on Saturday. The best chance of shutting that lineup down is Konnor Pilkington.
The obvious problem with this is the Bulldogs might not beat South Alabama with Pilkington not pitching. Earlier this season, Pilkington shut the talented South Alabama lineup down for 0 runs in 7.2 innings. He could easily go out and repeat the performance. South Alabama had some success against Bulldog pitching. But which pitchers did they hit well?
Graham Ashcraft, Trysten Barlow, Parker Ford, Jacob Barton, Andrew Mahoney, and Brant Blaylock ran up an 11.25 ERA against the South Alabama Jaguars in their appearances against them earlier in the season. Peyton Plumlee, Konnor Pilkington, and Jake Mangum had a combined 0.50 ERA against South Alabama.
With the right pitching matchup, the Bulldogs can shut down the South Alabama lineup. Cole Gordon has struggled at times, but his last four appearances show a trend in the right direction for the Bulldogs. Gordon has registered a 2.95 ERA in those four appearances, but most importantly, he’s only walked four batters in the previous 18.1 innings. With a lineup hitting over .300 with 70+ home runs, the Bulldogs need a pitcher who throws strikes. And Gordon has been doing that recently.
Mississippi State will have to face Southern Miss at some point in this regional. And when they do, they’ll need their best pitcher for when that time comes. Recent evidence suggests Cole Gordon can answer the bell against South Alabama. Andy Cannizaro has faith in Gordon, and if his faith is justified, this is the best path for Mississippi State to win this regional and advance to the Super Regional.