March 17, 2018 11:03:01 PM
STARKVILLE -- Pitching wins are often based on run support as much as they are pitching prowess. Konnor Pilkington and Ethan Small learned it firsthand this weekend.
The Mississippi State baseball team may have lost the first two games of its first Southeastern Conference series to Vanderbilt, 5-0 on Friday and 10-1 Saturday, but it can't blame the starting pitching performances from Pilkington (1-2) and Small (1-2) for it.
Both had to overcome difficult first innings to do it.
"He wasn't his sharpest, but he competed really well, and overall I'd give him an A for keeping his composure," MSU interim coach Gary Henderson said of Pilkington.
"Very proud of Ethan. Didn't have the breaking ball the first time through, rolled it around the second time, the changeup was outstanding all day and was even able to get outs on both sides of the plate with the fastball. A really, really strong performance by him, and then running him back out in the seventh to get the left-hander out was a real moment of growth for Ethan."
Pilkington saw his first-inning pitch count climb as he allowed a hit and a walk in the first inning, but ultimately stranded both runners on base to leave Vanderbilt (14-5, 2-0 SEC) scoreless.
Pilkington said he left a couple of pitches up in the zone that led to hard contact, but command was brought together to get him through six innings with eight strikeouts, allowing seven hits and four runs, only two of them earned. Pilkington did not issue a free base after that first inning.
Small had a similar issue, throwing 32 pitches in the first inning but getting there in an unusual way. Small struck out the first three batters he faced, but the last reached on a wild pitch. Small ultimately had to face two more batters, allowing a run to score -- the lone run he surrendered as his record dropped to 1-2.
"After something like that happens where you get the third strikeout but he gets on, you have to keep your poise and know your stuff is good enough," Small said. "It's one of those things where you have to tell yourself the job is not done."
Small rebounded to the tune of 6 1/3 innings with four hits allowed, eight strikeouts and two walks and threw 102 pitches -- an impressive feat for a player in his fifth appearance after missing last season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Former Bulldog returns
Vanderbilt relief pitcher Paxton Stover pitched a perfect eighth inning Saturday with two strikeouts, making his return to Starkville after being a member of the 2015 MSU team.
A Ridgely, Tennessee, native, Stover made two appearances for the 2015 Bulldogs, one in relief and one as a starter. He transferred to Dyersburg State Community College for the 2016 season before landing with the Commodores in 2017.
The first two games of the series have seen MSU strike out 24 times, 10 times Friday and 14 times Saturday. Before the series, MSU was averaging seven strikeouts per game.
MSU is set to start Jacob Billingsley in the series finale. In his four starts, he has pitched 18 2/3 innings, allowing 17 hits, nine walks, and six runs, all of them earned, with 14 strikeouts. He has collected the win in each of his last two starts, in Houston against Sam Houston State and at home against Utah Valley.
Vanderbilt entered the series with no set Sunday starter.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson