One thing on Cannizaro’s mind as baseball starts practice

Junior infielder Jake Mangum sizes up a pitch during MSU’s series against Arkansas last year. Mangum, from Pearl, hit .324 last season.  

The Hall of Champions is the reminder of all of No. 12 Mississippi State University's baseball accomplishments like the All-Americans, MLB draft picks, SEC Championships and College World Series appearances. However, there is one piece missing, and this was on the mind of head coach Andy Cannizaro Wednesday as he greeted the media two days before team practice begins.

“Everything that you can do in baseball has been done here at Mississippi State with the exception of one major, massive thing,” Cannizaro said. “And that one major thing is that we have yet to win the very last college baseball game of the season.”

MSU has yet to win a national championship in baseball. Their last chance was in 2013 when they lost in the College World Series Finals to UCLA.

As MSU heads into the final month of pre-season, the want to claim a national title is the driving force behind the team.

“It is a relentless pursuit of it; relentless work ethic every single day. Whether it’s our current team, whether it’s recruiting--it doesn’t matter,” Cannizaro said. “Everybody is all-in on Mississippi State baseball, and myself, our staff, our players are doing everything we possibly can to help them to be able to put that first national championship trophy up.”  

One of the problems MSU ran into last year was a short pitching staff, and they also had double-digit injuries, which hurt them going into postseason play. One of the pitchers who survived last season unscathed was Konnor Pilkington, a junior left-handed pitcher from Hurley.

“Anytime you go from one year where you have six or seven pitchers, to the next year where you have 15 healthy guys who can get innings,” Pilkington said. “It’s exciting that we have people who can go out and compete, and give everything that they’ve got.”

With 12 pitchers returning, some who will be in the process of recovering from major arm surgeries, Pilkington said he does not think his spot is guaranteed, and the competition will help him and the team focus on their goal.

“Nothing is ever given, and I’m not guaranteed a spot on the team, nobody really is,” Pilkington said. “Always competing everyday, in and out to really hone in on what the goal is, and try to be the best team player.”

As far as the pitching rotation goes, it looks like Ethan Small, Jacob Billingsley, Cole Gordon, J.P. France and Zach Neff are slated for the weekend spots. Other available spots in the rotation include the 13 midweek games and the pool to draw from is much larger this year.

I feel really good about the guys that are applicants to be able to pitch on the weekends for us. Those questions for us are going to be answered for us in the next three weeks, in terms of who it potentially may be,” Cannizaro said. “It’s going to leave us a tremendous, talented arm for a Tuesday or a Wednesday start, which is certainly going to be a welcome addition to the 2018 version of the Dawgs.”

MSU will open practice Friday, as the team is only three weeks away from their season opener in Hattiesburg, against a very strong University of Southern Mississippi team.

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