Omaha Notebook: Sunday Edition

OMAHA – He didn't get the decision. The numbers weren't anything for highlights. Nor was he called to speak for the team in the formal post-game press conference. Yet if this should prove his final Mississippi State start, Kendall Graveman was indisputably a winner.

Because, this Bulldog simply refused to lose.

When a defensive breakdown and some aggressive Oregon State contact dug Mississippi State into a fast 2-0 hole, Graveman simply did not let their College World Series opener get out of control entirely. Just the opposite. The senior and co-captain acted, for all to see, as if it was business as usual. Even if all knew it wasn't.

"If you get frustrated, it's over," Graveman said. "Ross (Mitchell) would have come in in the second if I would have got frustrated. For me to go at least 4.2 and hand the ball off, and have a bullpen like we do is what got us to here."

It surely has, to the profound bafflement and frequent frustration of opponents that rely on ace pitchers and long-stint starters and traditional pitching plans. Not Mississippi State, not in 2013. What starters such as Graveman are doing is getting deep enough for the relief crew to do their amazing things. Yet, even the bullpen Bulldogs like to see game get at least half-done before entering.

Graveman gave it Saturday. He still absorbed runs in the fourth and fifth frames but that was close enough thanks to some timely State swinging in just two big innings…at opposite ends of the afternoon.

Interestingly, a critical point for Graveman and gang was what looked at the time like a game-changing hit. With a 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth, Oregon State's Michael Conforto roped a drive that carried over CF C.T. Bradford to centerfield. Fortunately, even blessedly, and despite overnight rain, the outfield was solid enough that Conforto's shot one-hopped the wall and fence for a ground-rule double.

It brought baserunner Andy Peterson back to third base, and though he did score on a one-out grounder it proved a very lucky hop in Graveman's view. "It would have been a triple with a guy scoring there," he said, with one out and Conforto on positioned to make it a 5-3 game on almost anything. Instead Conforto was left stranded, and a two-run eighth gave State its winning margin.

So, as the first Bulldog to pitch in Ameritrade Park, what was Graveman's professional opinion? "It's a great park to pitch in. That ball (Confort0o) hit, the ground rule double, is a home run in any other park. To only give up a run in that inning was big, I think it was momentum going to us to only allow one run."

CLOCK STOPPER: Only a few of the 24,473 attending the College World Series opening game noticed, but LHP Ross Mitchell achieved something of a season standard in the seventh inning. A pitch registered 84 miles per hour on the stadium radar.

"That's nice!" Mitchell reacted when told, as he's always given 83 as his max-fastball.

What was nicer in the pitching-plan sense though was Mitchell's next offering to the same batter; it read just 65 mph. And was also a strike.

This radical change-of-speeds is one of Mitchell's best-known strengths, yet he agrees there really isn't a way for new opponents to scout it much less practice against it. "I think it's hard the first time facing me to be able to adjust. The second time-through is when I feel I really have to bear-down on hitters."

It is possible then that before he was relieved in the Oregon State eighth, Mitchell might have matched that speed. None will know…because one batter after he'd shown that speed-swing the radar-reading went blank. For the rest of the game.

"Yeah, I probably broke it," figured Mitchell. "It probably thought it wasn't picking anything up, it was messed-up."

MORE SENIOR SERVICE: Graveman wasn't the only Dog showing strength of senior character after a tough start. It was 3B Sam Frost's throwing error that opened the first-inning door, for a leadoff free two bases and OSU's opening score. It could have cracked Frost, who was starting as part of the left-handed lineup against a righthanded starter.

Instead the old Dog responded by delivering State's first RBI, on a bases-loaded single in the very next half-inning. He also assisted on four outs in as many more chances, showing why his coaches have trusted him over this post-season course.

"After the error in the first he did a great job coming back and finding ways to make some plays that were real difficult plays," Graveman said. "Don't overlook that. And for him to get a hit and score a run in the second was big, too."

Cohen thought so too. "Sammy's deal, he's worked so hard to shorten his arm-action. He came to us a s a middle guy with a very short action, sometimes at third base you get long on the backside and that's when he misses." Most memorably, at last year's Tallahassee Regional against Samford when he skipped a ball past Rea that effectively ended the season.

In 2013 though Frost has been a completely reliable hot-cornerman. Saturday's recovery epitomized why seniority matters so much in the college game, too. "The thing I'm proud of is he made about four more plays after that I'm not sure any third baseman not only on our club but in our league that could have made that variety of plays," Cohen said.

"He just did a great job recovering from that mistake. A younger guy might make that mistake early and ‘hide' from the game. But Sammy attacked it, got a huge hit for us. I'm really proud of him."

CASHING IN: What also ought not be overlooked is the excellent timing by a couple of Dogs at the end of the batting order. Frost's RBI-single, scoring 2B Brett Pirtle, came in his only at-bat with a runner on a base.

The same was true for LF Demarcus Henderson who followed Frost in that same second inning. And his single scored a pair, Rea and Bradford, for a State lead. He too never got to swing again with a teammate on the paths; and neither got another base hit. The ones they did, though, counted.

SOFT SWING: No at-bat counted more than Rea's eighth-inning opportunity. With State trailing 4-3 and one out DH Alex Detz chased Beaver starter Andrew Moore at last on a single. RF Hunter Renfroe greeted the reliever with a bullet off Matt Boyd and outran the carom for an infield single that could have easily been called an out.

So even after another out, Rea still had a chance to swing…against a guy he'd yet to face. But scouting reports and watching the first two-faced gave the big Dog a clue. "I just thought he was going to go for a strikeout in that situation, he was getting swing and miss. I as siting changeup and he threw it, and I was able to do something with it."

Like, drive a ball between the center- and right-fielders for his second double of the day. During pregame Rea had been drilling shots to center and leftfield, a few times beyond leftfield for batting practice home runs. He'd done the same thing last week at the Charlottesville super regional and in the game-two crushed a two-run blast over the leftfield bleachers.

This time, though, Rea wasn't looking to go long or even left. He had hit one that way in the second inning for his first double, but that was on a 0-2 count and Rea had to come around on the pitch. Neither time did he think home run.

"This is a big park. And we play in a big park back home. The moment you try to get big is the moment bad things happen. I've figured it out more, it just takes a soft, easy swing to put balls in the gap."

Rea made it sound so simple. It isn't, Graveman said. "That big two-out hit, Wes went up first pitch and never seen that guy in his life. To do that, man, that's pretty special."

TOOLS ON DISPLAY: Rea's key doublet scored Detz easily from second. Renfroe had the longer way to go but rounded third and got home ahead of the relay-throw. Bulldog fans have seen Renfroe's fast feet so much as to take such for granted. Not Rea.

"That guy is unbelievable. Talk about his athleticism, I don't think many guys could score on that ball. I mean he weighs 220 pounds and can score on that ball."

Renfroe's only base hit was that bang-bang infield single in the eighth. But he had one other impressive defensive play that looked routine in the box score; a caught line-out in the fourth inning for the second out. Why impressive?

Because a runner was on third base tracking the ball and tagging. Danny Hayes only faked a couple of steps after the catch though; he and his coach knew better than test Renfroe's arm. It was a wise call because the Bulldog sent the ball home, a step up the third base line for what would have been a tag and out.

"And Renfroe made a strike home, the one-hop,100-mph fastball to the plate!" Graveman said. "And Ammo (C Nick Ammirati) did a great job receiving. They respected Renfroes arm. You can tell people know he has a really good arm. A good accurate throw to the plate was huge, too."

TRENDY TOGS: Mississippi State brought out the same jerseys that were debuted last Sunday at the Charlottesville Super Regional, though used that time only for batting practice. The actual game gear was maroon jerseys, because—or at least the story was—that the stripedy shirts provided by adidas had not been tagged with SEC logos. That item was corrected for the Series trip, though still these remained for BP-use only Saturday.

Entirely new though were screeching-yellow cleats with black striping, furnished also by adidas and issued on Friday. These were brought to the park in gear bags and pulled on for pregame, to general shrugs. Almost half the team didn't even wear them for batting practice and warmup, though most starters such as Renfroe and Pirtle did in the game.

The surprise was who did not have flashy footgear. Ross Mitchell was in his normal cleats, though not due to his own choice. "I didn't get a pair, I wish I did. I wasn't in the running," he said. "But I have another pair." Gray shoes, which were also issued by adidas without the same, ahem, flair.

"Yeah, some guys got some gray ones and some guys got some yellow ones," Graveman said. "For me, it's just baseball, I don't like waver from what we're doing. But, we're 1-0 in the yellow shoes! I think it worked for some guys."

By the way, Graveman does have the yellows and chose not to try them for purely pragmatic reasons. "I didn't want to have to break-in and fear a blister or something like that later on."

And what of Holder? "I got a pair, I just didn't want to wear them. They're really nice, I just didn't think they'd go much with the Maroon tops today. I might break them out later on. I just went ahead with some of my old cleats."

It all does demand one question of those not concerned with fashion or friction: would wearing flashy footwear do anything to make Rea run faster?

"Nothing can do that," LHP Chad Girodo said.

State also has been issued some new practice hats, the same maroon base but with a brilliant yellow block ‘MS' logo.

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