February 3, 2018 10:26:28 PM
STARKVILLE -- Andy Cannizaro likes to recruit to both sides of Mississippi State baseball history. He tells recruits early and often that, as he sees it, MSU has been better for longer than any other Southeastern Conference program. He tells recruits of MSU's many appearances in Regionals, Super Regionals and recent run to the College World Series finals.
He also recruits to the other side of it: the lack of a national championship. He's made his entire program focus on that goal and that goal alone.
Cannizaro's first season as MSU's baseball coach last spring was a tough one as he dealt with a short timeline, taking over in November. In his first true offseason as the team's coach, he has made it clear to all involved with the program that a national championship is the only goal it has.
"I think that's always the goal for Mississippi State baseball. Everybody in this program, everybody that's under this program's umbrella, that's what drives us every day," Cannizaro said. "It's a relentless pursuit of it, it's a relentless work ethic every single day."
Cannizaro has taken that vision one step further: it's the only goal anyone in the program will discuss. Individual goals are both rarely discussed and vaguely defined. Cannizaro doesn't place all that much importance on winning the Southeastern Conference; as he put it, "You don't really win the SEC as much as you outlast everyone else."
As players practiced in January for a season that begins in February, their only goals lied in June.
"You can take anybody on the team and ask them the same question: our one goal is to do what this program has never done, and that's win it all," starting pitcher Konnor Pilkington said. "Everybody has their mind set on that and that's what everybody is looking for.
"We talk about it all the time: we have our eyes on the prize, and that's to hold that national championship trophy up. That's the only thing that we think about is winning the whole thing."
MSU has reason to believe it is ready to make it happen now. MSU has appeared in a Regional in six of the last seven seasons, four times turning that into a Super Regionals appearance with the aforementioned 2013 appearance in the championship series.
For Pilkington, that previous success has done nothing but fuel his fire for the national championship.
"It's the third time around. I'm ready to win. I'm ready to go to Omaha and I'm ready to win the whole freakin' thing," Pilkington said. "I've went to two Super Regionals two years in a row and it's kind of getting old."
The roster sets up well for a such a run, too, with returning production at the plate in center fielder Jake Mangum, shortstop Luke Alexander, second baseman Hunter Stovall, outfielder Hunter Vansau and outfielder/first baseman Elijah MacNamee. The first three in that list give MSU strength in another priority of Cannizaro's: defense up the middle of the field. With a pitching staff not hindered by injury, Cannizaro has high expectation for that aspect, as well.
The pieces coming together with a singular vision as lofty as theirs could create an overbearing expectation for players, but they aren't suffering under it. They've embraced it and found comfort within it.
All that's left is to live up to it.
"It's a lifestyle. He's making it a lifestyle for athletic competitors like we are," Pilkington said.
Sophomore catcher Dustin Skelton added, "He's kind of laying the foundation of this is what this program is going to be for a long time: we're going to see how many championships we can win. It's about getting to Omaha winning it, it's about making sure all 35 guys and our coaching staff have one vision."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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