"That feels a lot better than normal!" said SS Adam Frazier.
Of all the reasons for good feelings, none stood out like the MSU man on the mound. Graveman already had one complete-game on his sophomore resume, a Sunday win at LSU—by a 7-1 score also--which led to his promotion to the game-two role. He'd had ups and downs and hard luck since, but on the home field this Friday he was well-nigh overpowering. Graveman (2-3) only needed 101 pitches to go the route, scattering three Volunteer hits with the lone run against him and two walks.
And, eight strikeouts. Though this wasn't what he nor is coach was proudest of. "He had 15 ground balls to go along with the strikeouts," Coach John Cohen said. This was brutal efficiency against a Tennessee order that stacked six righthanded hitters and a switch-guy against State's righthander.
"I thought my slider was good tonight to righties," Graveman said. "And lefties of course the changeup was good getting them to roll over it, we had a big double-play in the fourth inning to get out. And the defense did a good job for me too." They did, as for another night the Bulldogs played errorless defense. Thanks to Graveman's prowess though they did not need quite the same sort of dramatic grabs and throws as in Thursday's 2-1, 11-inning victory.
"I thought he was just phenomenal," Cohen said. "He commanded the strike zone, he battled. I counted 21 fastballs that were 90 mph or better, this is a kid that showed up throwing 82."
The flip-side to Friday was how a struggling Bulldog offense made things look much easier for a welcome change. State mustered only seven base hits, but did a better job ‘bunching' the safeties in one crucial inning and coming through with the timely knock in another. Graveman benefitted best as he saw his batters break a 1-1 tie with three runs in the fourth inning and two more in the fifth to establish control.
"They did a great job competing in the batter's box, and it does make a pitcher more comfortable. It's easier to throw fastballs and see how many ground balls I can get."
UT starter Robbie Kidd (2-1) paid the price, charged with six of State's runs on five hits. He struck out three but also walked five, and two of those scored as did a batter Kidd plunked.
"He was an off-speed guy, I think I saw one fastball all night," said Rea. "He was changeup/slider, coaches had a good gameplan and we executed for the most part."
Tennessee did have a chance of getting on the scoreboard first, as in the second inning Davis Morgan worked his way around to third base with two outs. Drew Steckenrider whipped a hard grounder that 1B Wes Rea knocked down to prevent any scoring.
"We went breaking ball and the guy got barrel to it," Graveman said. "Wes did a great job keeping it in front of him." Before long Rea would show up just as big or bigger with the bat. But State's first run came in the second on a non-hit. DH Daryl Norris worked for a walk, meaning an obvious bunt situation for CF C.T. Bradford. He laid the ball down so well that first base was left uncovered for an infield single. RF Hunter Renfroe then bunted both over, and on 3-1 Rea walked more or less intentionally for a double-play opportunity.
2B Matthew Britton avoided that with a line-fly to rightfield for the sacrifice RBI.
Tennessee evened things up in their half of the fourth as Zack Osborne opened with a grounder to the left side. 3B Sam Frost fielded it a step out of bounds and threw hard and a bit higher than even Rea could catch with a foot on the bag. It was the first base hit off Graveman. Osborne stole second, then was running again on a pitch that Morgan singled past third base.
State got a break as Chris Fitts tried to bunt on 0-2 and fouled it off for a strikeout. A double-play, off one of those smart changeups, got Graveman back to the dugout with the 1-1 tie. He returned to the hill with a 4-1 lead.
Bradford got it going with a deep-drive double. He could have had third base easily as Kidd threw a dirtball but Bradford had a bad angle and couldn't see how far away it rolled, staying safely put. Renfroe bunted him over, and Bradford had no trouble scoring as Rea hit a rocket off the UT third baseman's glove for a RBI-double.
"I bunted a couple of times last night so it felt good to swing away!" said Rea. "I don't think too many people thought I was going to second. Once I saw it get down the line I figured I had it." But there was more to come. After a walk of Britton, UT second baseman Maddox briefly saved a run with a diving stop of Frost's grounder headed for rightfield.
But he only delayed things as it turned out, because Frazier got around on Kidd's fastball-in. The drive rattled into the rightfield corner as Rea and Britton scored and Frazier legged out a triple.
An inning later the Bulldogs had another two-on, two outs situation. Norris was plunked to reach and Bradford walked. Kidd struck out Renfroe, but hung one for Rea that ended up one-hopping into the left-centerfield padding. The two-run double staked State to a 6-1 margin, and ended Kidd's evening. Little-used lefthander Josh Allman rolled a grounder that Britton appeared to beat out, with Cohen expressing his disagreement.
State got leadoff runners on in the sixth and seventh against Allman with nothing to show. In the eighth, a walk of Britton had better results. Frost bunted him over, and Frazier made it a 7-1 margin with a single. This, off a pitcher the Dogs had no real scouting information on, as Tennessee essentially was writing the evening off.
"We looked at radar gun up there and tried to adjust watching his warmup pitches, and stay in the middle of the field," said Frazier. "It worked for us."
The only question was would Graveman complete what he'd started. The previous evening Chris Stratton went 9.0 full frames too, leaving with a tie that meant reliever Caleb Reed got the decision. Graveman had teased his corhort Thursday, so now…
"Chris came to me in the eighth inning and said you told me last night to go ahead and finish the job? I was ready, my body felt great, and I went nine innings tonight." Two ground balls around the eighth strikeout did the trick.
Frazier drove in three runs on his two hits, as did Rea along with a run scored. Norris, Bradford, and Britton touched home plate twice apiece. For his part Frazier, again, thanked Graveman.
"Kendall throwing like he did, that kind of set the tone. It's just putting good swings on, they started falling and hopefully they'll fall tomorrow."
Because Saturday the Bulldogs will go for a much-needed sweep that would get them back in the muddled middle of the SEC standings. The Volunteers turn to righthander Nick Williams (2-4, 3.15 era) to salvage a split and snap a six-game losing streak to Mississippi State. Cohen had not named a starter as of 10:00 Friday but said most likely righthander Evan Mitchell (1-1, 4.13) will get the ball again in a game-three.
But with Stratton, Reed, and Graveman already eating up 18 innings, the Bulldog staff is well-stocked for a welcome change. Sometime starter Nick Routt is rested, as are fellow lefthander Jacob Lindgren and righty Jonathan Holder. Reed, too, ought to be available after a day's rest. The only arms definitely out would be lefty Luis Pollorena, though he can always run the paths as he did in scoring Friday's winning run, and righty Brandon Woodruff.
Game time is 1:00 at Dudy Noble Field as part of Super Bulldog Weekend. Weather was due to pass through tonight or in the morning and be gone by game time.