June 21, 2018 10:37:22 PM
OMAHA, Neb. -- A third game in the College World Series was no guarantee, so Mississippi State interim head coach Gary Henderson saw no point in treating it as such. When asked about his starting pitching plans for a third game before the tournament began, he thought it was an attempt at humor.
Behind the scenes, Jacob Billingsley was preparing for anything.
All season, the senior from Senatobia has been MSU's third starting pitcher, a duty he will continue when he starts 2 p.m. today (ESPN) against Oregon State (51-11-1). Up until that point, though, Billingsley was ready for anything.
"(Henderson) said if we win the first game and it looks like we're winning the second game, don't be surprised if we bring you out (of the bullpen)," Billingsley said. "I had my cleats on both games, waiting on the opportunity and hoping for the opportunity, to tell you the truth."
MSU (39-27) was able to get through that second game, a 12-2 win over North Carolina, with six innings from Konnor Pilkington and three in relief from Cole Gordon, saving Billingsley for the Friday start.
It gives Billingsley what is the longest break between outings of his career, even going back to his healthy days as a relief pitcher. As a starting pitcher the last two years, he has come accustomed to pitching once a week on a regular schedule, but it will be 12 days since his last outing when he takes the mound at TD Ameritrade Park.
It allowed him to take two bullpen sessions before this start as opposed to the usual schedule of a Thursday bullpen before a Sunday start. Billingsley said both bullpens went well.
"It's fortunate to get a break like that -- not that I needed it, but it's fortunate," Billingsley said. "I had a couple of bullpens, feel great, hopefully can come out and give us what we need."
Billingsley's return to the mound comes against one of the best lineups in the nation, as Oregon State brings four confirmed starters with batting average .320 or higher: Adley Rutschman (.396), Nick Madrigal (.392), Trevor Larnach (.339) and Cadyn Greiner (.323). Another one, Steven Kwan (.360), is questionable for the game with a hamstring injury suffered earlier in the tournament.
"You've seen it all year, they can swing," BIllingsley said. "They have several guys that were first-rounders, but it's the same thing in the SEC. You face that day in and day out in the SEC."
More inclement weather on Wednesday continued to delay the inevitable for MSU.
The Beavers had to beat North Carolina Wednesday night for the right to face MSU in a game that did not end until 11:01 p.m. Thus, MSU spent all of Wednesday not knowing which team stood between it and a spot in the national championship series. That being the case, preparation could have been tricky, but it wasn't for Henderson.
"You scout the first game, because you have to prepare to play one of those teams," Henderson said. "The same night, you do that with both clubs. It's pretty straightforward."
MSU and Oregon State meeting for a spot in the national championship series, with MSU having the margin for error, should feel familiar: this exact situation manifested itself in 2013.
In both 2013 and 2018, MSU won its first two games in Omaha to get to this spot; in both 2013 and 2018, Oregon State lost its first game -- at the hands of MSU in 2013 -- and had to win twice to get here. In 2013, MSU won the first game 4-1, punching its ticket to the national championship series without the if necessary game the next day.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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