FILE - Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen, who is from Tuscaloosa, Ala., won his first series against Alabama since taking the job with the Bulldogs after Saturday's 3-2 victory. Photo by: MSU athletics
May 5, 2012 6:29:28 PM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Mississippi State University baseball team knows the gauntlet of a Southeastern Conference schedule is an arms race and the coaching staff has spent the last two years stockpiling ammunition.
The high-level recruiting of talent on mound paid off again for the Bulldogs as they survived a 3-2 victory over the University of Alabama Saturday clinching its third straight series.
"It's not happening for us (offensively) but if you look around the league, it's just not happening for a lot of people," MSU coach John Cohen said. "There's I think 43 one-run games in our league already right now. I think we pitch it and defend it well enough to win a game right now."
The victory marks the first time MSU has won a weekend series over the Crimson Tide (17-30, 6-17 in SEC play) since 2005 and was the first time accomplishing the feat in Tuscaloosa since 2004.
"Our kids know and are on a mission that our entire season is still in the palm of our hands," Cohen said. "We kind of determine our own destiny and they want all those goals we set forth early on to achieve. They still want all those."
In its last three series wins over the University of Tennessee, the University of Mississippi and Alabama, neither of those three schools had nearly the pitching depth to handle playing low-scoring, one-run games with the Bulldogs ample hurlers. MSU is one of two schools in the SEC with a team earned run average under 3.00.
"On the mound we did a really good job today," Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. "Our young guys certainly did a good job and did their part to give us a chance to win. You have got to give a lot of credit to Mississippi State's arms, again we scattered out eight hits and a couple of runs."
MSU (29-17, 12-11 in SEC play) used five pitchers on a Saturday that included scorching temperature at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. It was a much more tactical approach than Friday night where they simply handed the baseball to their ace Chris Stratton and watched him dominate for seven innings
The revolving door bullpen for MSU started with a junior Alabama fan as a child, a All-American reliever in the middle and a freshman possibly figuring it all out quicker than imagined at the end.
Kendall Graveman, who grew up owning football season tickets to Alabama football games when he was at Alexander City (Ala.) High School, gutted through 4 2/3 innings of work allowing just six hits and a single run while recording eight ground ball outs to lower his ERA to 2.91.
"We are built to win games like this today and really competed well on the mound," Graveman said. "Those ground balls outs are my makeup and I'm not going to go much more than that. I really believe in this team and we've got great things to come still."
Sophomore Evan Mitchell (2-1) came in for Graveman in the middle of a count, something Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson relish doing to throw hitters off a rhythm, to complete 1 1/3 innings for the win. All-America selection Caleb Reed recorded two outs in the seventh inning during his 85th career appearance.
"We love the matchup with Caleb and (Alabama bench player/infielder) Kenny Roberts and so when he checks into the game, we'd like to have Caleb right there on the mound to face him late in a game," Cohen said.
Finally freshman Jonathan Holder walked straight into the situation he calmly handled the previous evening and pitched two scoreless innings for his third ever collegiate save. The one-hit work by Holder, a highly touted prospect from Gulfport last year, upped his scoreless streak to 19 2/3 innings this season.
Every one of those pitchers but one, Caleb Reed, that came in the game Saturday were part of back-to-back recruiting classes by Cohen with emphasis on obtaining quality arms.
"We've got 14 pitchers on our travel roster and all of them are guys that we feel confident in and I think 10 of them can consistently throw it over 90 miles per hour," Cohen said. "When you have that type of depth in your pen then everything becomes a easier route to victories."
MSU will go for its first SEC series sweep on the road this season today when they take the field in Tuscaloosa for a 1:10 p.m. start time. Cohen suggested the starting pitching options are freshman right-hander Brandon Woodruff (0-1, 3.86) and junior left-hander Luis Pollorena (3-0, 1.46).
"The issue with Alabama is they are so right-handed dominate so we'll have to go back and evaluate things," Cohen stated as he gave impression the staff is leaning toward Woodruff making his first ever SEC start.
Junior Charley Sullivan (2-2, 5.59) will start for Alabama Sunday for the 1:10 p.m. first pitch. Sullivan is an Oxford native and a transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College making his fifth SEC start of the season.
Mississippi State (29-17, 12-11) 3,
Alabama (17-30, 6-17) 2
W - Evan Mitchell (2-1) 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, K in 29 pitches
L - Jon Keller (1-5) 7 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K in 95 pitches
S - Jonathan Holder (3) 2 IP, H, 0 R, BB, 2 K in 30 pitches
MVP: MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson - Bulldogs fourth-year assistant made four pitching changes (three of which in the middle of counts) and had his bullpen give up just one run over the final 4 1/3 innings when MSU starter Kendall Graveman left the game.
Turning point: 7th inning - After drawing a one-out walk, MSU senior outfielder Brent Brownlee drew a pickoff attempt from Alabama starting pitcher Jon Keller and it turned into a two-base error when the throw got away from first base. MSU freshman Tyler Fullerton would knock in Brownlee on a infield single to third base to give the Bulldogs the insurance run they desperately needed in a 3-2 victory.
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.
3. The Ups and Downs of Nelson's Pillar BOOK REVIEWS