MSU's Cannizaro talks baseball with Rotarians

Mississippi State baseball coach Andy Cannizaro was the guest speaker at Monday's Rotary Club meeting. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

Since arriving to Starkville well over a year ago, Mississippi State baseball coach Andy Cannizaro has had a very similar message when selling his baseball team.

The youthful and energetic Louisiana native is quite aware of the rich history that MSU baseball has built. From countless Southeastern Conference championships to first round Major League Baseball Draft picks, just about everything has been accomplished in Starkville.

Except for a national title.

“I really believe that this is a program that has the support of our administration and the most passionate fan base in the country that is going to allow us to win that very last baseball game of the season,” Cannizaro said to Starkville Rotary Club on Monday. “That is our goal each and every day in our program.”

Cannizaro’s team showed, even with limitations in his first year, that he can have the Bulldogs playing on the highest level. State was without double digit pitchers a year ago due to injuries yet it finished the season two wins away from a College World Series appearance after losing in the Super Regional at LSU.

“I’m really excited to get a full pitching staff back this year,” Cannizaro said. “We return a big nucleus of our team.”

Among the pitchers returning that missed action a year ago is hard-throwing lefty Ethan Small, who is in his sophomore season. Cannizaro expressed that he felt Small would make the biggest impact of those that were injured last season.

Cannizaro also singled out Friday night starter Konnor Pilkington, fifth-year senior Jacob Billingsley and transfers J.P. France and Zach Neff as pitchers that would be relied on heavily. He believes that Riley Self and Spencer Price will again be effective late-inning pitchers for the Bulldogs as well.

While the pitching staff is reloading after a rough season a year ago, the offense is an unknown at many spots. Brent Rooker had one of the best seasons in SEC history when he hit .387 with 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in on his way to just the second triple crown award in the conference’s history.

Some players that Cannizaro hopes will at least aid in replacing that power production is Elijah MacNamee, Hunter Vansau and Marshall Gilbert. The catcher Gilbert is a junior college transfer who will be competing for the starting spot behind the plate with Dustin Skelton.

The season is just over a month away, but the newly constructed Dudy Noble Field will not be active until March 6 when MSU hosts New Mexico State 13 games into the season. The Bulldogs will be playing their first series on the road at Southern Miss and also have road games at Jackson State, Texas Rio Grande Valley and McNeese State.

MSU will also play in the Kleberg Bank College Classic at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi, Texas against UC Santa Barbara, Nicholls State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi from February 23-25. The Bulldogs cap off a long road trip by playing at Minute Maid Park in Houston in the Shriner’s College Classic against Louisiana, Houston and Sam Houston State from March 2-4.

“It’s going to be tough,” Cannizaro said of the schedule. “Any time you go on the road to start your season, it’s going to be tough, but I really believe we have the maturity on our team that’s going to be able to handle that type of adversity early in the season.”

With the season closing in, MSU will have its Opening Night Banquet on Saturday at The Mill in Starkville. The event begins at 6 p.m. and former Bulldog All-American pitcher Jeff Brantley will be the guest speaker. Tickets can be booked through or through the MSU Baseball Dugout Club.