Graveman did stay on the mound to finish both the eighth and then ninth inning, for a complete-game victory over Florida 2-0. This win gave Mississippi State (26-8, 5-6 SEC) the weekend series as well, coming after Friday's 7-3 success. The Gators are 14-18, 4-7 SEC.
For Graveman, it was a second-straight Saturday to go the distance in a Bulldog victory. And no one was surprised either. Not his coaches, his teammates, for that matter probably not the Gators, and certainly not the home crowd that rose in an impromptu ovation in the eighth. If they were begging Cohen to keep the senior righthander on the hill, though, they were wasting worry.
First, because Graveman hadn't even reached 100 pitches and was still strong. Though as Cohen said, "It's been four years and Kendall has never said that, ever. He's never tired." No, the two-out, one-on visit with a pinch-hitter in the box was strictly strategic.
"We weren't going to take him out, we were going to talk about the next guy up situationally and how to handle it," said Cohen…adding that the 3-1 ball call did seem to rattle Graveman. "I thought we got the check-swing there but we didn't," Graveman said. "He came to calm me down."
Either way it worked as Graveman rolled a grounder to shortstop to end that inning. He came back for three fast ground balls to the second-base side in the ninth, the first two fielded for outs and the third skipping 2B Brett Pirtle's backhand-reach for a single. Unruffled, Graveman flew-out cleanup Gator Justin Shafer. He finished the day with 107 pitches, only five of them batted for base hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Graveman (4-2) rolled three double-plays, two off Zack Powers, and 18 ground-outs.
His fastball was the silver bullet this time, too. "The changeup wasn't as good as last week but the fastball movement I couldn't have asked any more. It showed with all the ground balls."
C Mitch Slauter had a good idea what sort of day was coming. "From the time I started warming up with him in the bullpen. It's not like his stuff was any better than any other day, he just executed all his pitches."
Graveman had to, because all the offensive support he was going to get came early. Mississippi State got to Florida starter Danny Young for the pair of runs in the very first inning and that was that. Lefthander Young (1-3) took the loss on six hits with two walks and three strikeouts in his 4.0 innings, before a trio of relievers kept State from any expansion.
Yet even those quick runs were a good sign for a Bulldog batting order that has struggled to score early. Even better was SS Adam Frazier snapping his frustration-streak with a leadoff double. DH Alex Detz followed with a single and RF Hunter Renfroe was plunked to load the bases. Young walked 1B Wes Rea with one out to force in Frazier, and CF C.T. Bradford got the other RBI with a bouncer to the right side.
Young was able to leave the bases stuffed in the first, then avoided further harm on a second-inning Frazier single, a leadoff double in the third by Pirtle, and a base hit in the fourth by LF Demarcus Henderson. He was replaced in the fifth with Detz on base via another single by Ryan Harris, who mowed down all seven Dogs he faced.
"We knew scoring runs was going to be difficult, but the Harris kid was phenomenal," Cohen said. "He looked like a big-leaguer. Our scouting report had 90-93 and he was throwing 95, 97, and 101 on one pitch. We just couldn't get our barrels in the spot. He located everything against us."
Graveman was up to the challenge of maintaining a 2-0 margin. "We scored early and that really made me settle-in the game." He erased a second-inning single with the first double-play, did the same in the fifth inning and left another Gator stranded. "I kind of felt he was going to go the distance when he was mowing them down middle of the game," Frazier said.
But it wasn't all the pitches. Bulldog defense put up another errorless SEC outing, the fifth-straight. They also made the big plays needed, most notably in the seventh after a one-out walk of Taylor Gushue and Shafer single. This was Graveman's real crisis, the first time all game a Gator had made second base. Yet in the fifth he had rolled a double-play off Powers and here he was up again.
"So I knew if I got down and away with a little sink I had a good feeling. And Frazier did a good job taking it himself and turning two." There was an inside angle to this too, as just before the first pitch Coach Nick Mingione signaled Frazier to go two steps to his glove side. Right where Powers pounded it for the made-to-order double-up.
From there it was Graveman's game to complete. "Mitch kept saying he doesn't have as much velocity but he has more sink than at the beginning of the game," Cohen said. Closer Jonathan Holder had loosened just in case, but wouldn't get a chance for his second save of this series.
"The stuff wasn't as good but I was begging Coach (Butch) Thompson to let me come back out in the ninth," Graveman said. "And he has enough faith in me."
Frazier, Detz, and Pirtle had two hits apiece with seven total for State. For Florida, Shafer had two of the safeties. Bobby Poyner worked 0.2 relief innings with nothing doing and Mike Vinson took care of the last 1.0 with a hit and strikeout.
Having won their first SEC series of the season, the Bulldogs can now go for a sweep that would put them back break-even in the league standings. State's pitching plans are entirely undecided, pending a pre-game test of LHP Jacob Lindgren. The sophomore missed last week's turn at Arkansas with a tender elbow.
"We're going to roll Jacob into the pen and ask him to get loose, and see where we go from there," Cohen said. "If he feels he wants the ball and is comfortable he'll get it." Otherwise there are choices such as LHP Ross Mitchell, who threw a short relief stint Friday, RHP Ben Bracewell, or others. Florida also will pick their pitcher ahead of the 1:30 gametime.