Graveman Overpowers Bears In 3-1 Victory

Kendall Graveman was surprised to see 109 pitches at the end of his stat-line. He was not surprised by the 8.1 innings though. "Really every time I go out there I feel like I'm going to try to go nine innings, as much as I can," he said.

Mississippi State's starter didn't quite make it through nine complete. Otherwise though it was a complete Sunday success as Graveman gave the home team everything they'd hoped, and more, in a 3-1 victory over Mercer. The Bulldogs took the series rubber game and are 14-3, while the Bears left 12-5.

But not before making quite an impression on Mississippi State, so that taking this non-conference series was something the club celebrated. After, that is, smacking Graveman in the face with a towel-full of shaving cream. This for a starter who'd won all his five decisions as a 2011 freshman.

"We needed somebody to carry the heavy lifting today, and that's exactly what Kendall did," said Coach John Cohen. "That's a very good offensive ball club over there and he just neutralized them."

Almost completely. Against an order that battered Bulldog pitching for 14 Saturday hits alone, and had slugged three home runs in the first two games, Graveman was the neutralizer. He held Mercer to three hits and the lone run, that in the fourth inning, with just one walk and a career-high eight strikeouts. The 8.1 innings was also his longest State stint to-date.

All pretty much as game-planned, C Mitch Slauter confirmed, based on what they'd seen from Bear batters on Friday and Saturday. "They can really swing the bats, probably the best hitting team we've faced so far. But we prepared well for them. We talked before the game and did a really good job of knowing Kendall has that sink and using the changeup. We were confident he'd match up well and they'd get a lot of roll-over balls."

Graveman (1-0) did roll 13 grounders, a dozen of them for outs. He also made good use of his own glove with five fielding chances, all converted into outs including a couple of key come-back numbers. The best measure of Graveman's game was a 0-for-3 day by Bear slugger Nick Backlund, a .484 batter coming in who'd gone 4-of-4 Saturday with a homer and double. Two of Backlund's outs were one-hop jobs right back to Graveman's mitt to end innings.

"I have a lot of sink so I felt I really match up well with a team that is going to try to lift it, lift it," Graveman said. "The changeup was real good getting them leaning front-and-back. They timed the fastballs yesterday so my goal was mix up off-speed pitches. And I think I did that."

The Bulldog offense didn't exactly overwhelm but did muster sufficient success to give their starter margin to work with. And, make a loser out of Mercer starter David Randall (1-2) on 4.2 innings. The lefthander gave up all three runs on five hits, walking and striking out two apiece.

Randall was tagged for one of those runs in the opening inning. LF Taylor Stark outran his grounder for an infield single and made second on a wild Randall pitch. DH Trey Porter scored him with a single to leftfield.

Which was just about all Graveman needed to work with. His second Bear reached on a shortstop error with no harm done. Graveman stranded him to begin a string of eleven-straight outs, five of them fanned.

"The players behind me did a great job, Slauter did a great job behind the plate, and I felt I was in tempo. Once I got rolling I could tell I could go to the ninth inning if I needed."

State stranded two over the next two turns and lost a runner between second and third. But in the third inning they got some real margin. Down two strikes 1B Wes Rea went the other way for a single, and CF Hunter Renfroe joined him on base via walking. With no outs, Slauter showed bunt the first pitch as Mercer obviously expected. Fortunately he fouled it off…

…because the Bears were looking for another sacrifice on the second pitch. Instead Slauter swung away with runners moving and lined a RBI-single into left. Rea scored and Renfroe made third base ahead of the throw, meaning he could score on almost any contact.

RF Demarcus Henderson provided it with a bunt to the first-base side for a 3-0 lead. "That really makes you kind of relax," Graveman said. Though this also might have contributed to his one really challenging frame as Mercer got on the board in the ensuing inning. It began with Graveman's one walk to lead it off.

A bunt and wild pitch moved the runner over and on full count Chesny Young pulled a single through the left side to end the shutout. Another single had the tying runners on and the bullpen busy. Graveman stayed in to face the ninth batter, a righthander, and it paid off. With some unintended help. Graveman fielded the comebacker and while his throw to second was high, forcing SS Adam Frazier to jump the bag, an out was called anyway for a double-play to preserve the 3-1 lead.

The injury bug struck in State's half of the fifth. Stark singled to right but even as the fielder got the ball opted to keep running. Not only was he thrown out at second but came up limping. A two-out plunking of Porter finished Randall for righthander Eric Nyquist. On full-count Rea saw up-and-in but the ump saw strike three.

Nyquist got two outs into the sixth before a Henderson single brought lefty Grant Pepelian to end the inning on a fly ball. He rolled through the seventh in order, and got an out in the eighth before righty Dawson Brown took over and gave up a Rea single. Sidearmer David Teasley lined-out Slauter.

None of that mattered as long as Mercer was stuck on one. Instead of losing rhythm after the fifth-inning score, Graveman only strengthened and retired the side in the sixth, seventh, and eighth with eight ground-outs in the tear. Was he tiring?

"I felt I had a full tank! Once I got to throwing a changeup and getting ahead in the count and quick innings, my body really felt good." Good enough that despite the top of Mercer's order coming up he was allowed back on the mound in the ninth, and after a leadoff single got a force of that runner. With the next two Bears due guys who had hit Saturday homers, and the wind blowing to left, Cohen had an easy choice.

"Fresh Caleb Reed, against Kendall at 109? He was on such a roll we didn't want to take him out of the game, but when that little flare fell we wanted our best guy out there. Kendall had dominated a dangerous part of their order and they'd seen him three times."

Reed made quick work of Logan Gaines (foul-fly) and Backlund (strikeout) for his fifth save of the season. Stark, prior to his hamstring injury, and Rea were able to collect two hits and each score.

Losing OF/P Stark, who had a hamstring issue last year also, could leave State even more short-handed for their first road trip of the season. Wednesday night saw CF C.T. Bradford (shoulder, 1-2 weeks) and 3B Daryl Norris (kneecap, 4-6 weeks) go out of the starting lineup, joining OF Brent Brownlee (kneecap surgery, 4-6 weeks) on the sideline for an extended stretch. With depth running dangerously low Cohen activated redshirting freshman infielder Philip Casey and started him at third base, before making some moves after the fifth inning.

It is the outfield now really thin, with just three regulars left there and a pitcher who can shag a fly in emergency. Cohen said he might have to pull another redshirt this week, and while not naming names that would appear to be Tyler Fullerton.

State's week is all in south Louisiana, as they are at Hammond on Tuesday and Wednesday for 6:00. Then comes SEC season, starting at Louisiana State Friday evening at 7:00. Cohen said today pitching plans for the midweek are inning-to-inning as of now.

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