On a rainy Friday evening, No. 19 Mississippi State University (10-10, 0-3 SEC) got a taste of SEC play when they faced No. 11 Vanderbilt University (15-5, 3-0 SEC) for their SEC opening weekend series.
The Bulldogs were shutout, losing five to zero while starting pitcher Konnor Pilkington, a junior from Hurley, earned his second loss of the season.
“Here and there I left a couple balls up, it is kind of the story of the night, really,” Pilkington said. “They hit two balls that were right at the knees, the rest that they hit hard were right up in the zone. I have really worked hard in the past to work at the knees and throw the ball down.”
Pilkington gave up two earned runs, the other two runs were unearned as errors caused Vanderbilt to score. MSU committed three errors and got five hits, but that did not put any more pressure on the pitcher.
“I keep the same plan if we are hitting, or if we are not hitting,” Pilkington said. “It is just how baseball goes sometimes. We are really working hard towards getting more hits and runs on the scoreboard, but it is something I can not control, and I try to control what I can.”
One of the struggles MSU had in the game was leaving runners on base, as they stranded 10 on base and were unable to drive anyone across the plate.
“That is Friday night there, two really good arms, the margin of error shrinks,” head coach Gary Henderson said. “And the game speeds up so you got a pretty good look at Friday night in our league.”
In the second game of the series, MSU lost 10-1. For this game, redshirt sophomore Ethan Small, a pitcher from Lexington, Tennessee, started the day on the mound giving his team a chance. He threw six and a third innings, giving up a run, four hits and struck out eight batters, coming out to a standing ovation.
“You talk about me a year ago, I was in bed with a brace on watching it on TV,” Small said. “I have always dreamed of having that happen, just knowing how far I have come, and getting that is just one of the cooler moments of my life.”
MSU struggled again with batting, as they left 13 men stranded on base, and reached 17 straight scoreless innings of SEC play before freshman Tanner Allen, a designated hitter from Theodore, Alabama, smashed a ball over the right field wall. Henderson said he could sense some frustration from the team and the fans, and had some ideas for what his team can do to settle down in the batter's box.
“I think not only does the team have a little bit of frustration in those situations, but I think everyone in the ballpark is probably a little frustrated in regards to driving runs in,” Henderson said. “First thing is to stay positive and maintain a simple, very direct plan. Hopefully something that is easy to execute. Sometimes, the game has to come to you when you are in the box.”
On Sunday MSU hoped to avoid a sweep. They moved a step in the right direction with Jake Mangum scoring twice in the first four innings. However, they fell short losing 4-3, but Henderson said his team had much better at bats, and had a much better third game.
“To be able to push three across after where we have been was a really positive day for our kids,” Henderson said. “We certainly made some progress today, and we loosened up a little bit. We took advantage of some guys on base and drove them in.”
The starter was redshirt senior Jacob Billingsley, a pitcher from Senatobia, who was responsible for three of the runs in four and one thirds innings of work. He was credited with a loss in the game. He said his control could have been better, but overall as a team they had a better day in the dugout and on the field.
“Just falling behind, when I did get ahead I did not hit my spot with my slider,” Billingsley said. “It is way better chemistry, atmosphere and it felt better in here. Obviously it was not the result we wanted, but we played more together. Everybody had more energy; it was just a better day.”
MSU will play Alcorn State on Tuesday and Texas Southern on Wednesday at home in their last double game midweek series, as they look to bounce back from being swept at home to start of conference play.