March 11, 2012 4:42:05 PM
STARKVILLE -- Kendall Graveman saw the giant American flag blowing heavily toward left field and knew he was the right guy for the job Sunday.
The junior right-hander used the natural sink and movement on his off-speed pitches pace Mississippi State University on the mound in their 3-1 victory over Mercer University at Dudy Noble Field.
Graveman (1-0), who hadn't gotten a victory since May 10, 2011, got a power-dominated Mercer (12-5) lineup that came into the game leading Division 1 college baseball in home runs and slugging to ground into 14 of the 16 contact outs he recorded in the afternoon.
"If you want to try and lift (the baseball) then try and lift it so you see what happens," Graveman said. "I think they were timing up fastballs so my goal was to keep them in and out."
Graveman held Mercer to just three hits and one run while striking out a career-high eight batters in 8 1/3 innings - the longest outing for an MSU starter since Nick Routt tossed a complete game to win the 2011 NCAA Atlanta Regional over Georgia Tech.
"Obviously Kendall Graveman is an important part of the day (because) we needed somebody to carry the heavy lifting and that's exactly what he did," MSU coach John Cohen said. "He's been so effective against left-handed hitters with his power sink and movement and todayit was equally as good for both."
With his performance Sunday, Graveman likely earned himself a weekend start on the mound when MSU opens Southeastern Conference play next weekend at No. 13 LSU.
After Mercer pounded out 14 hits and slugged three home runs in the past two days, MSU's triangle of Graveman, pitching coach Butch Thompson and catcher Mitch Slauter knew they needed a new gameplan to counter the explosiveness in the opposing dugout.
"Kendall is a sinker ball guy and we all talked about knowing he has that sink to use that changeup," MSU catcher Mitch Slauter said. "We couldn't be confident that he was going to get a lot of rollover ground balls today."
MSU (14-3) got some offensive help early in the game as they took an early 3-0 lead off RBI hits from Porter and Slauter that both occurred in a hit-and-run situation.
"We had to get some guys moving (and) for whatever reason we're taking better swings with our hit and runs then when he have advantage counts," Cohen said. "Our offense is a work in progress."
However, MSU suffered more bad news on the injury front as the list of inactive players may likely now include sophomore outfielder/pitcher Taylor Stark after he severely injured his hamstring trying to stretch a base hit into a double. Stark, who was thrown out at second base by quite a large margin, was seen in crutches after a two-hit performance Sunday.
"We'll have to wait and see how Taylor bounces back from this but the last time he did this - it took awhile," Cohen said. "It hurts us in two respects - he was starting to see the ball offensively and then he was one of our guys on the mound so that's another blow to our club."
Without specifying the severity of the injury to Stark, Cohen confirmed the MSU coaching staff is considering removing the redshirt status of freshman outfielder Tyler Fullerton to the active roster to add to the already crippling outfield depth.
The 23-rd ranked Bulldogs got a multi-hit effort from redshirt freshman Wes Rea that included the 290-pounder to plate a run as well. Demarcus Henderson had his hit streak extended to eight straight games as the redshirt freshman outfielder finished the weekend hitting .500 with two runs scored, two RBIs and a pair of stolen bases.
Mercer left-handed starter David Randall (1-2), who is making his return from a back injury suffered in late February 2010 forcing him to received a medical redshirt, allowed three earned runs in five hits in just 4 2/3 innings.
MSU freshman Phllip Casey made his collegiate debut Sunday going 0-for-2 at the plate and receiving an infield putout at third base. Before Norris' knee injury earlier in the week, the MSU coaching staff had scheduled to redshirt the Sugarland, Texas native but depth concerns have forced him into action.
"I think Phillip had some good at-bats and hadn't played a lot of third base but I think he moved around fine out there," Cohen said. "One thing injuries bring are opportunities."
MSU will now prepare for its first road games of the 2012 season as they closed a 17-game homestand in order to visit Southeastern Louisiana University before opening league play at LSU Friday night.
Mississipppi State (14-3) 3,
Mercer (12-5) 1
W - Kendall Graveman (1-0) 8.1 IP, 3 H, R, BB, 8 K in 109 pitches
L - David Randall (1-2) 4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 2 K in 73 pitches
S - Caleb Reed (5) 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K
Most Valuable Player: Mississippi State right-handed pitcher Kendall Graveman
Turning Point: 4th inning - The MSU lead grew to3-0 on an RBI-single by Slauter and a sacrifice bunt by Demarcus Henderson.
Next game: Tuesday, 6 p.m. at Southeastern Louisiana
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
2. The beat goes on at 'Unplugged 3' this week ENTERTAINMENT
3. CCT youth: Come on in, meet 'Mississippi Characters' ENTERTAINMENT