“It felt great,” said Bradford after tossing the ninth inning of Mississippi State’s 8-1 victory over Alcorn State. “I’ve been throwing a lot of bullpens lately but it felt good to get out there on Dudy Noble and pitch in a real game.”
All three Diamond Dogs who got to throw in Tuesday’s win felt good for that matter. State (8-1) got a strong starting stint of seven complete innings from Kendall Graveman, and an inning each from Tim Statz and Bradford to take care of the visiting Braves (2-6). Meanwhile MSU’s offense knocked out a quick three runs in the first inning to establish control. As planned.
“We wanted to come out and handle business early and we did,” said 3B Jarrod Parks, who accounted for two of State’s 14 base hits and a team-leading three RBI. In fact eight of the starting batters were able to notch at least one hit or a run, or both in the relatively routine success. Not that Coach John Cohen regarded it as such coming in.
“These are some of the games that frighten you, because when you’re at certain programs in the middle of the week there’s a huge incentive and the SEC teams doesn’t have as much incentive as it should. That’s something we’ve challenged our kids, explaining how important these games really are.”
It was important to righthander Graveman (1-0) who drew the Tuesday start to stay on an early-season rotation that has developed. “I didn’t pitch any relief this past weekend, our starters did a good job, so they kept me on the same schedule.” The sophomore certainly looked sharp after a full week down, limiting the Braves to three hits for the lone run and striking out seven without a walk.
He rolled through the first four frames facing the minimum despite a leadoff single in the second which was erased on a double-play. “The second time through the lineup they started seeing a lot of fastballs and got a few hits, so we mixed in a few more pitches the second or third time. I got out of the stretch and left a few up but they did a good job.”
Nor did Graveman mind the fast show of offensive support, at the expense of Alcorn State starter Brent Blaum (0-1). The young southpaw had some nice stuff but didn’t fool the top of State’s order either. With the first two Dogs reaching, Parks collected the opening RBI with his single into leftfield. SS Jonathan Ogden plated Bradford with a fly ball and C Cody Freeman drove in Parks for the 3-0 lead.
Blaum steadied enough to keep it there two more turns, then in the fourth Bulldog bats went back to work. Consecutive singles and a one-out walk of 2B Nick Vickerson loaded all bases, which meant Bradford got a RBI by taking a Blaum pitch off the shoulder. Parks made it a 6-0 scoreboard with his base hit to rightfield scoring LF Jaron Shepherd and Vickerson.
Blaum’s line was 5.0 innings with seven runs on nine hits, five walks and a single strikeout. He actually did well just to surrender one more run as four Dogs reached in the fifth, with CF Brent Brownlee driving home Freeman.
Collins pushed the margin to the final 8-1 form with his seventh-inning fly ball to center, allowing runner Demarcus Henderson to take home ahead of the throw. That one went to the account of reliever Chris Garza who worked 3.0 innings with three hits, a walk and a strikeout. Ryan Fuentes finished out the evening with a scoreless ninth.
Statz had an unblemished eighth of his own with a strikeout among the three he faced. That was the cue for Bradford who had been expected to see late duty early and often this freshman season. The nature of MSU games up to now hadn’t allowed for such, but this was his chance and Bradford struck out his first collegian faced. He thought he’d scampered over to first ahead of Brave Joshua Powell on a bouncer to the right side but the call was safe…drawing a look from the frosh at a veteran SEC umpire.
Bradford was a bit sheepish about that flash of emotion. “Nah, it was just competing! I thought he was out but that’s how it goes in baseball!” Anyway a swinging strikeout and ground ball ended the evening. Alcorn managed just four hits while State batted out a dozen along with the pair of sacrifice-flies. Vickerson stole a pair of bases and scored twice. Alcorn State’s Eduardo Gonzalez recorded half his team’s base hits and scored the lone run, driven in by Gabriel LeBron in the fifth inning.
“We got some things done,” Cohen said. “We got C.T. out there finally. There were some parts that weren’t clean but I was proud of Kendall did today, and Tim went out and threw well, we needed to get him out there. And we got some of our young guys on the field.” Such as Henderson, Adam Frazier, and Taylor Stark for fielding chances. Even then going so long with Gravemen also meant three other potential arms weren’t used Tuesday. Thus DH Daryl Norris, C Hunter Renfroe, and regular reliever Caleb Reed reported to the outfield after the game for some pitching practice.
State coaches have reason to keep these kids tossing because the upcoming stretch will, well, stretch the bullpen out much more. As Graveman noted, “We have six games in six days and will need a lot of pitching.” He was referring to a four-game weekend, with a pair of contests against both Iowa (Friday 4:00, Saturday 4:00) and Georgia State (Saturday 12:00, Sunday 2:30); which is followed by separate games next week with Mississippi Valley State and Alabama-Birmingham.
Cohen knows righthanders Devin Jones and Chris Stratton will get the ball for the first two weekend games. The rest of the rotation is in play though Graveman and Evan Mitchell are obvious candidates as more righthanders; with Chad Girodo and Statz the southside choices depending on matchups. There is also the chance of some wet Saturday weather that could throw all fine plans out of whack.
“It’s going to be a long weekend and we have Tuesday-Wednesday after that,” said Parks, who has his own idea how to prepare for such a busy stretch. “We’ve got tomorrow off so I’m going to use that to be sleeping all day and not think about baseball.”