June 15, 2018 11:19:10 AM
STARKVILLE -- Cole Gordon had his moments where he would allow his frustration to show, but he never let it get further than that.
The junior pitcher from Tampa had plenty of reason to fall into extended ruts. He could have done so when his five earned runs in 1 1/3 innings against Vanderbilt in March shot his earned run average over 6; he could've done it again when he surrendered seven earned runs over four April appearances spanning just 3 1/3 innings. He continued to stay the course, expecting the fortunes of the sport to eventually reverse the situation.
His dedication paid off.
Gordon is entering the College World Series on the best pitching of his Mississippi State baseball career, as his two appearances in the Nashville Super Regional dropped his season ERA by nearly an entire run to 4.86. He remains one of MSU's most used bullpen arms as the Bulldogs start the College World Series 7 p.m. Friday (ESPN) against Washington (35-24).
"I think it's more a tribute to the team behind me," Gordon said. "I think things are starting to click, the ball's bouncing our way.
"That's the thing about baseball, it has its ups and downs. You stay strong through the valleys and you usually come back up."
Gordon's correction of fortunes has been drastic, welcomed and come with incredible timing. His 6 innings of relief against Oklahoma in the Tallahassee Regional got MSU (37-27) got MSU to the championship game there. He was even better in relief during the Nashville Super Regional, pitching 3 1/3 innings in the Friday win and 3 2/3 innings in the Sunday win, all of it in scoreless fashion with three hits allowed and 10 strikeouts.
For that performance, junior center fielder Jake Mangum called him the MVP of the weekend, and got no objection from pitcher Keegan James and shortstop Luke Alexander. It's a far cry from the player that picked up pitching in an emergency situation.
Gordon is far from the only position player that migrated to the mound last season as the team was decimated with injuries, but he is the only one that has stuck there.
He started last season in the mix for the starting first base job that was ultimately made Brent Rooker's. Gordon took 57 at-bats and started 13 games but was still needed so much as a pitcher that he threw 55 1/3 innings and started on the mound nine times.
Needless to say, with that background, Gordon did not enter the season with a predetermined role; he didn't need one, either.
"I figured wherever he put me is where I would go," Gordon said. "I hadn't pitched since high school, so nothing was really set in stone for me. There wasn't really a draw to any specific role; whatever the team needed me to do, I was ready to embrace it."
Gordon was used in a variety of ways throughout the season, but as his work in the postseason suggests, he has settled into a role resembling long relief. From there he found a routine and said he hasn't changed anything about it recently to cause the better results of late. He makes stretching between outings with strength coach Brian Neal a priority, but remains on the same throwing schedule.
He opened the possibility that his best work of late is inspired by the safety net behind him.
"We have confidence in anybody we roll out of the bullpen right now, everybody has gotten big outs," Gordon said. "That allows me to loosen up because I know if it's not my day, somebody else is going to be able to pick up the ball and carry the team for us."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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