The numbers say that the senior Alabama pitcher has made four appearances this season with a 14.73 ERA, but this Crimson Tide team needed a different kind of pitch from the former Oxford High star.
This 37-man Alabama team, set to make its NCAA tournament return after a year’s absence Friday against Troy in the Tallahassee Regional, needed all six seniors to lead a program resetting with young talent.
This Alabama team needed its seniors to set a tone that, reading between lines, was missing a year ago.
“Trey is a senior, has been in our program for four years and, I think, the ultimate team guy,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “There’s been a lot of talk about this team’s sacrifice and doing things to help the team, and Trey is right at the top of that.”
Pilkington is not the only Oxford connection to this year’s NCAA tournament. Former Oxford teammate Tucker Simpson has seen regular action as a freshman on Florida’s pitching staff, going 1-2 with a 4.79 ERA in 13 appearances, including eight starts. The Gators will play in the Bloomington (Indiana) Regional.
If Alabama and Florida survive their regionals, they would play in a best-of-three super regional.
Also in Alabama’s program is Matthew Goodson, a classmate of Simpson’s and part of Oxford’s 6A title team of 2012. Goodson redshirted at Alabama this season, waiting his turn behind senior left-fielder Andrew Miller.
“We certainly see Matthew as a guy that has a real future here for us,” Gaspard said. “We think he’ll contribute in a big way not only next year but in the years coming.”
Pilkington stands at the end of his college career but again finds himself establishing a foundation.
He was the senior ace on the 2009 Oxford team that broke through to the 6A finals and lost to Auburn. That Oxford team laid the groundwork for the 2012 team, which beat Fairhope in Montgomery.
“That was awesome,” Pilkington said. “Going there and losing it obviously hurt and stuff, but them going back there and winning it means a lot, and I was happy for them. They earned it.”
This year, Pilkington is helping Alabama lay a new foundation.
The Tide went to a super regional in his freshman year and a regional in his sophomore year but missed the postseason a year ago.
“Last year, with the way the season went, all the seniors pretty much came together because we weren’t going to let that happen again,” Pilkington said. “We made sure that this team is a really close-knit group of guys.”
This season, Alabama has started anew with a roster including 15 true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen.
The first-year group includes shortstop Mikey White, second baseman Kyle Overstreet, designated hitter Chance Vincent, center fielder Georgie Salem and closer Ray Castillo. Mike Oczypok opened eyes by pitching 8 2/3 innings and nearly beating top-ranked LSU in the SEC tournament Friday.
That young talent has helped to establish a renewed culture within the program, Gaspard said during the SEC tournament. He specifically pointed to White and Overstreet working countless extra hours on their own, turning double plays.
Alabama also has four senior starters in Miller, catcher Brett Booth, third baseman Kenny Roberts and pitcher Charley Sullivan, but Gaspard needed all of his six seniors to be leaders. Pilkington had to lead while accepting a lesser role. He had 44 career appearances headed into this season.
“No team can be complete without great locker room guys and guys that are holding the rope in the same direction, and Trey is one of those guys that has been big for this pitching staff,” Gaspard said. “It may not have shown up, numbers wise, for him this year, but we value what he’s done for us as a coaching staff and with our young talent that’s within the team.”
The reward for Pilkington is getting to finish his college career in the postseason.
“It feels awesome, especially after last year, not getting in and having the season we did,” he said. “I’m excited to get back to it.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.