Keeping baseball inside the sizable park proved precisely the best approach for Mississippi State in their matchup with the Rebels. With Graveman setting a shutout pace, Bulldog pitchers limited Ole Miss to six total hits, a lone extra-base knock, and no home run shots at all. Supported by some timely scoring, it produced State’s third win in the five-year-old Governor’s Cup series, the first since 2008. The Bulldogs improved to 23-14 while Ole Miss left Pearl at 23-15.
DH Cody Freeman played in that ’08 win. So scoring another as a senior was a nice way to balance out the college career. ““That was my freshman year, my first game from being hurt. I got one hit, I think. It feels good, too.”
This was also the second MSU success in AA-dimensioned Trustmark Park after a 5-4 win two weeks ago against Southern Mississippi; another team that loves the longball. When the Bulldogs arrived and saw a stout breeze blowing straight-out to leftfield there was reason for obvious concern.
Only…they weren’t. Least of all Graveman, and especially not when he was able to take advantage of Ole Miss’s offensive goal.
“They saw the flag blowing more than I did. They were trying to lift balls, their whole key was hit fastballs early.” Which the sophomore righthander did for the first four full innings to earn his fourth win in as many decisions. Graveman didn’t strike out any Rebel, but then he walked just one and allowed only three hits. And he blew through the stint.
““We were efficient with pitches,” he said. “I threw 34 in four innings so I was moving along well. They were hitting the ball early in counts but we were getting early outs. And when you can make one pitch and get two outs, it’s always huge.”
Huge indeed, with a double-play turned in three of Graveman’s four innings. Without going so far as to say that was how things were planned…the performance certainly matched Coach John Cohen’s hopes in how Tuesday’s staff assignments were set.
“The reason we wanted to pitch Kendall is because he’s a sinker guy. He got enough ground balls to keep us going, and threw a lot of strikes. We didn’t have a lot of walks.” Just the one, as Chad Girodo and Taylor Stark completed the remaining five innings without a free pass. Girodo fanned five around three hits and the only Rebel run, while Stark’s 1.1 innings were hitless, scoreless and had one strikeout.
Ole Miss starter Matt Tracy (3-3) soldiered through his 6.1 midweek innings to take the loss, charged with five runs on seven hits, two walks, and six strikeouts. Only three of his scores were earned runs, as Rebel errors were a definite factor. One was on Tracy himself to allow State’s first run.
While Graveman and cohorts meant to minimize big hits, Tracy wasn’t all that shabby in such respect either. In fact the Bulldog batters did not exactly shell anyone. But a big yard favoring State’s defense was Ole Miss’ downfall frequently, as was a good eye at the dish this night.
“We took the marginal pitch,” said Freeman. “Balls that could have been called ball or strike, we took and we got the call. And it went with us for the rest of the game. I think we just put pressure on them. Even if they were chink hits, not striking out, making them make the plays.” Senior 3B Jarrod Parks was the game’s Most Valuable Player after going 2-of-3 and scoring twice. Senior C Wes Thigpen was 2-of-4 with a pair of RBI.
None of them hit home runs either, but then State was not swinging for any of these fences so loved by Graveman. “It’s great to play here, especially with these bats. If you’ve got a big centerfield an team that tries to lift ball, we happened to be right there. Some nights it goes like that and goes your way.”
Small ball was State’s early-game strategy as usual. Leadoff Dog C.T. Bradford blooped one just between centerfielder and second baseman, and advanced on a well-bumped bunt from LF Nick Vickerson. Parks followed with a seeing-eye single through shortstop, though it took so long to get through Bradford had to delay going to third and halted there.
Freeman showed bunt twice, then when the Rebels still sat back he laid the ball down in front of the plate. Tracy charged as Bradford read the ‘safety’ squeeze, starting-and-stopping until he saw the pitcher flip it past his covering catcher. Bradford came on home while Parks got around to third, where he was able to score from as Thigpen grounded deep enough to the right side for the RBI.
“That’s big, I mean its confidence for a pitcher,” Graveman said. “And to go get a quick inning and get them back in hitting again, they did a great job putting the ball in play and good things happened.”
SS Jonathan Ogden opened State’s second with an opposite-field fly ball that landed fair and rattled around the right corner. Ogden stretched his luck and was ruled safe at third base, giving 1B Daryl Norris the RBI opportunity. He converted, again on a grounder to the second baseman, for the 3-0 margin.
Double-plays highlighted Graveman’s stint. In the first a leadoff single was erased on a lineout/throwout by 2B Adam Frazier and Graveman left another on first base. A one-out error in the Rebel third put the nine-batter on, but Graveman coaxed a grounder from Tanner Mathis to Norris. The first baseman made his force-throw to second, and Graveman scampered over to cover the back-bag in time for another twin-killing.
In the fourth it was another leadoff single, bringing cleanup batter Matt Smith. He struck it on the nose but right into Graveman’s glove for an easy following flip to first base. “It was reaction, it slowed down in the moment of things and I looked back-base. Luckily he took a big secondary lead and we had an easy double play.” A fly ball to center ended his stint.
And before Girodo could take over the MSU offense added a gift run. It might have been more since Vickerson knocked a one-out base hit to left and stretched it into a double. But he over-slid the sack and was tagged. So there were two down when Parks walked. Freeman lifted one medium-deep and a long step fair in right field, with Smith getting position.
Except he just let it pop off the glove for a two-base error; a run-scorer too since with two outs Parks was running all the way home. “Things went our way tonight,” acknowledged Graveman.
“Ole Miss helped us a little bit,” Cohen said. “But we took advantage of it and that’s important. It was a sloppy ball game, but our kids hung in there.”
A leadoff error by Ogden in the Rebel sixth did no harm as the runner took off on a dirtball that didn’t get away from Thigpen that far. He delivered to second for the out and Girodo shot down the two-three swingers. Ole Miss changed pitchers after Bradford’s one-out single in the seventh. Righty Mike Mayers kept picking at first, only to watch Bradford steal the first time he tossed to the batter.
Not only that but catcher Taylor Hightower’s throw was wild putting the runner at third. Vickerson worked a full-count walk and negated any double-play by stealing second cleanly. Then Parks took one off the arm to load all bases with one down.
Freeman fell behind 0-2 before watching a pair of balls, then dropping a base hit in front of the leftfielder scoring Bradford. Thigpen followed with a blooper dropping behind the second baseman bringing Vickerson home for a 6-0 lead. Mayers did well to keep it there, leaving the bags loaded. R.J. Hively and Trent Rothlin took care of the last two Rebel turns.
But enough damage had been done to assure success. State had never notched a shutout win in this game, in either iteration. This wasn’t to be the first as Ole Miss cracked the scoreboard in the eighth. Will Allen followed Ogden’s earlier example with a drive down the right line that Stark couldn’t come up with, a leadoff triple. Girodo settled for getting the first out on a run-scoring grounder by Austin Anderson.
The door cracked, Ole Miss kept the pressure on. Ogden let one through the wicket and Alex Yarbrough singled. State made a move on the mound with Stark getting the two-out, two-on opportunity. He immediately wild-pitched both runners along, giving cleanup man Smith his big chance. On 2-2 Smith watched one hit the outside corner for the strikeout. The Rebels went down nicely in the ninth, though with one last deep fly caught by Vickerson on the leftfield warning track.
““I thought we pitched it pretty good. Kendall gave up some hard-hit balls early but he got zeroes on the board. And you can’t say enough about what Chad did, he came in and got some big swings-and-misses. And Taylor got a big strikeout there, that’s really the whole ball game, the punch-out ends the inning.”
A crowd of 7,334 watched most of the way and for a good while after last-out a sizable State contingent hung around to celebrate another win in what is fast becoming a favorite home-away-from-home again. “To get a lead early on with these bats and a big ballpark, I think our kids really settled down when things like that happened,” Cohen said.
Now the Bulldogs really are back at home, with a couple of days to prepare for a visit from #2-ranked South Carolina. Cohen said they will use just one; since State practiced on Monday they get tomorrow off. “Thursday is a big work day for us getting ready for one of the premier clubs in the country.”
Besides the rivalry aspect, knocking off the Rebels so soon after a Sunday success at Arkansas has brightened Bulldog moods as they begin the second half of their SEC schedule.
“It gives us a lot of momentum going into the weekend,” Freeman said. “They’re a really good club but we’re a good club, we showed that beating Florida and Vanderbilt. We just have to play like we played tonight, having fun.”