Mississippi State Baseball: What We Learned from SEC Tournament

Sep 15, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of a baseball on the field prior to the game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 15, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; A general view of a baseball on the field prior to the game between the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports /

The SEC Tournament comes to a close today with LSU and Arkansas fighting for the crown. What did we learn about Mississippi State during their week in Hoover?

Mississippi State struggled down the stretch of the regular season, dropping three of their last four SEC series. But the Bulldogs were able to respond and showed signs of encouragement in Hoover heading into the postseason.

Mississippi State took the first two games against Georgia and Arkansas to advance to the winners bracket where they would face Florida. The Bulldogs appeared to be in great shape through seven innings of the Florida game, until a monumental collapse saw the Gators hang eleven runs on the board in the eighth.

This forced Mississippi State into an elimination game later in the evening against Arkansas with a depleted pitching staff. The Bulldogs would wind up falling to Arkansas 9-2, eliminating them from the tournament.

So what exactly did we learn this week in Hoover?

Mississippi State has six reliable arms heading into regional play

Coach Cannizaro stated after the loss to Arkansas on Fiday night that he felt comfortable with six pitchers on his staff. Although Cannizaro didn’t mention any names, it’s quite obvious which six he was referring to.

"“We got six guys that we feel good about going into the NCAA Tournament, and those are the six guys that are going to get the ball with the season on the line.”"

It’s likely the six guys Cannizaro was referring to were Konnor Pilkington, Riley Self, Cole Gordon, Peyton Plumlee, Jacob Billingsley, and Denver McQuary.

We all know what Konnor Pilkington is capable of. Pilkington has been the Bulldogs ace all season long and is seemingly getting better with every outing. Pilkington is coming off an outing against Georgia where he went eight shutout innings while only throwing a hundred pitches.

For most of the year, Pilkington has been a strikeout pitcher and has gotten into high pitch counts early in games. But as of late, Pilkington has been able to cut down on his pitch counts by pitching to contact early in at bats. This was highlighted Wednesday against Georgia where Pilkington threw just six pitches in an inning.

Cole Gordon has also shown that he is capable of being a reliable guy in the pitching staff. Early in the season, Gordon often struggled with command but has shown the ability to pound the strike zone with his fastball and throw his breaking ball for strikes in the recent weeks. Gordon is coming off his best performance of his career against Florida — where he went seven innings and only gave up just one run on four hits and one walk. If the Bulldogs are to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Cole Gordon will have to be a big part of it.

Denver McQuary is another guy that will be a very important piece for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. McQuary, who has been the Saturday guy since allowing one run in five innings against Texas A&M a few weeks ago, gave up three runs on three hits and five walks in four innings of work. McQuary has often struggled with command throughout the year for the Bulldogs, but his potential and plus stuff makes him a key contributor heading into the NCAA Tournament.

Jacob Billingsley has struggled with command in his last few starts, but seemed to get back to where he was early in the year in Friday’s loss to Arkansas. Billingsley allowed three runs on three hits and five walks through five innings against the Razorbacks. If the Bulldogs are to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, Billingsley is going to have to give Andy Cannizaro and Mississippi State a solid five plus innings in his opportunities on the mound.

Over the last month, Andy Cannizaro has made it quite clear that Riley Self is the guy. While Spencer Price has struggled since injuring his ankle against Auburn back in March, Self has emerged as the lock down guy at the back end of the Bulldogs’ bullpen. Self appeared in three of the four games in Hoover this week, and outside of struggling in his third outing against Florida, he proved he is by far the most reliable guy in the Mississippi State bullpen.

And then there is Peyton Plumlee. What can be said about Plumlee’s performance against Arkansas that hasn’t already been said? Plumlee came in during the fifth inning to keep the Bulldogs in the game and he did just that. Plumlee would go on to go five innings without allowing a run or a walk and gave up just two hits. Plumlee spent time early in the season, and Cannizaro stated after the Arkansas game that he would not rule out Plumlee getting a start in a regional.

I’m not sure if this will be enough to win a regional, but performances from theses six guys in Hoover should certainly raise Bulldog fans confidence.

Hunter Vansau and Elijah MacNamee are hot

We all know what guys like Ryan Gridley, Brent Rooker, Jake Mangum, Hunter Stovall, and Cody Brown can do with a bat, but the emergence of Vansau and MacNamee should be very encouraging for Cannizaro.

Hunter Vansau has gotten nine straight starts for the bulldogs and has raised his batting average over thirty points during that span. Vansau had three RBIs this week in Hoover, including a RBI triple and RBI double against Florida.

Elijah MacNamee was the teams leading hitter in Hoover, going 7 for 15 and picked up twenty points on his batting average.

The rise of Vansau and and MacNamee is huge for Mississippi State as the Bulldogs have struggled towards the bottom of the lineup throughout the season. With Vansau and Macnamee batting sixth and seventh in the lineup, they can serve as a solid bridge between the top of the order and the bottom two of the lineup.

Andy Cannizaro made some moves in the Bulldog lineup over the last two weeks by switching Gridley and Mangum, and moving Hunter Stovall up to the cleanup spot. Don’t expect Cannizaro to stray from this strategy. The move has given better protection to Brent Rooker with Mangum and Stovall behind him. Also, Gridley has been getting on base more in the lead off spot versus the three hole.

Does any of this mean the Bulldogs will make a run in the NCAA Tournament? Well, no, but as a Mississippi State fan, you have to feel more confident than you did following the LSU series. It will ultimately depend on match ups which will be announced Monday morning at 11 A.M.

Make sure to check into Maroon and White Nation for coverage throughout the Bulldogs run in the NCAA Tournament. Hail State!