"It felt good tonight, that's the longest pitch count I've had in a while and it was good to do that. And it helped our staff going into Thursday at Ole Miss."
Mississippi Valley State fell to 18-32.
Coach John Cohen, who had expected to work several more moundsmen in the non-conference contest, changed that plan once the starter really settled in. "I'm really pleased with Kendall. It's kind of a pattern with him, he gets behind early. Then once he gets on a roll he shoves it in the strike zone and lets his movement take over." Aided by some early offense, and especially a six-run outburst in the sixth inning, Graveman was able to get 7.0 complete before handing off to Evan Mitchell and C.T. Bradford for an inning apiece.
Mississippi State could afford to think about a multi-pitcher plan because everyone figured the 20th meeting all-time with Valley State would go like the previous 19…all Bulldog wins. What pleased Cohen most maybe was how the club approached this midweek matchup, though. "Our kids treated this the right way, like it was business, and I think they were ready to play today."
"This team played other teams close, and they've played LSU and Alabama and Southern Miss," said Graveman. "So we knew they'd come out ready to play."
The Bulldog offense certainly was ready to rattle MVSU starter Kameron Stady (0-4), as leadoff man Bradford singled and scored on a triple by 1B Ryan Collins. A fly ball by RF Jaron Shepherd made it 2-0 after a single inning. Stady kept it there for an inning before the Devils evaded any shutout with a third inning run. Nine-batter Nic Fangonilo singled, advanced on a passed ball, and scored as Michael Lowe bounced a base hit through the open right side.
It turned that might have been the extra spark Graveman needed. "The second and third inning we a little bit of bad tempo on my part. But once I found my tempo I rolled along, got a few quick innings." With his slider, something Graveman had been working on a lot lately, sinking hard he needed nine and ten pitches to get through the next turns.
State got that back and more the bottom of the inning. A leadoff walk of Collins was followed by 3B Jarrod Parks' single and an errored C Cody Freeman grounder to load the bases. Shepherd scored the lead runner with a fly ball to rightfield, and when Stady cut the throw-in and tried to get Freeman at second he threw it away allowing Parks to come on in as well. With two on corners LF Trey Johnson's grounder scored Freeman for the 5-1 margin.
In the Bulldog fifth a two-out fly ball off Shepherd's bat became a double as the leftfielder and shortstop collided, hard, right at the line. In fact Luke Walker stayed on the field for a while and was helped to the MSU training room before going to the hospital. "That was a really serious collision," said Cohen. "Coach (Doug) Shanks said he broke his orbital bone so that's a concern for all of us."
Shepherd stole third when play resumed and eventually scored on a bases-loaded wild pitch. The next inning though Shepherd shook himself up, chasing a foul-fly successfully but smacking the fence hard enough to need a look-over.
That catch, with two on and one out, allowed the runners to advance a base apiece. So Derek Wallace's left-gap double plated the pair for a 6-3 scoreboard. Which was as close as Valley was getting to an upset.
New pitcher Morris James began the Bulldog sixth for a short stint. Johnson's fly ball to the warning track in left was dropped for a two-base error. Bradford walked, and Collins bunted both along before new pitcher Cody Parker could be summoned. He promptly loaded the bases by hitting Parks, and Freeman made it 7-3 with a fly ball to rightfield.
Two were still on bases for Shepherd, and while he didn't deliver a base hit the result was the same. Devil shortstop Jerry Hildreth went behind the bag for a nice stop and threw badly for a two-run error. Another walk and plunking re-loaded the bases, so that a wild Hildreth pitch could score Shepherd; and a Frazier single plate Vickerson for the 11-3 margin. And, another changes with Barrett Baxley inheriting two runners. DH Hunter Renfroe singled in Johnson as well before the inning ended after five runners scored on just two base hits.
A revised lineup added a bonus run in the MSU eighth as 2B Sam Frost walked, Frazier singled, and consecutive walks of Renfroe and Bradford pushed the score across. Four Devils threw relief after Stady's 5.0 innings, and MSU netted just eight base hits. Nine base-on-balls were as much MSU's offense all evening.
"They gave us a lot of different looks and it was a challenge to be on the mark," Cohen said. "But it was good to get our guys ready for a big, big weekend."
Though he went just 1-for-3, SEC-leading batter Parks did run his hitting streak to 21 games. He also reached twice on plunking which extends his league lead in on-base percentage. Senior Collins' triple in the opening inning gave him ten three-baggers for his career, tying for 5th-best on the MSU list. And senior Vickerson was credited with two stolen bases. He now has 24 on the season, tied for the 8th-best year in program history.
Mississippi State will spend Wednesday preparing for their showdown series with Ole Miss. The Bulldogs take an 11-13 SEC record to Oxford, which ties them with the Rebels and Auburn for third in the Western Division. But all three are just a game behind Division co-leaders Alabama and Arkansas with two series and six games remaining in SEC season.