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Stellar pitching powering Bulldogs in College World Series

Forget Rally Bananas, incredible comebacks or just plain destiny. The real secret behind Mississippi State’s 2-0 start at the College World Series has been good, old-fashioned, shutdown pitching.

The Bulldogs have allowed two runs in their first two games in Omaha. Not surprisingly, they’ve won both and can advance to the CWS championship series with one more victory this afternoon against Oregon State.

The latest gem came Tuesday from Konnor Pilkington. He allowed two runs in six-plus innings in a 12-2 win over North Carolina. It was his eighth quality start of the season, but his first win since April 7. He had gone nine appearances without a victory.

Pilkington (3-6) scattered six hits, walked two and struck out four against the Tar Heels. He allowed one run in the first inning and left after giving up a leadoff triple to Ashton McGee in the bottom of the seventh.

Cole Gordon took over at that point and uncorked a wild pitch that allowed McGee to score. Gordon retired nine of the 10 batters he faced as he finished the game and earned his fourth save of the season.

“I felt early on I was just trying to throw it and I guess the atmosphere kind of got to me a little bit. I will admit that. In the first two innings. I feel like I left some balls up got behind in the count and they had opportunities and I was lucky to get away with some pitches,” Pilkington said in a postgame press conference. He allowed a run in the first inning and pitched out of a jam in the second before settling down. “There in the sixth inning I told myself I’m going to back off a little bit and sink a couple of pitches here, stay black to black and stay down in the strike zone. And I guess that really succeeded for me.”

Pilkington had some strong outings since beating Ole Miss more than two months ago. He pitched into the seventh inning or later three other times without winning.

Pilkington improved his record to just 3-6 this season, but Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson said that was not indicative of how well the junior and third-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox has pitched.

“There’s things you can’t control from the starting pitching position, and I think it’s a real credit to Konnor Pilkington that he’s not complained once about anything in terms of run support, bad luck, anything at all. Not once,” Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson said. “And I think that’s a testament to how he was raised, who he is. I think he’s a total winner.”

The effort of Pilkington and Gordon followed a strong performance by Ethan Small and three relievers in the CWS opener against Washington. Small threw seven shutout innings to lead the Bulldogs to a 1-0 victory.

The Bulldogs will take on Oregon State today at 2 p.m. one win away from advancing to their second national championship series in five years.