March 17, 2013 11:14:23 PM
STARKVILLE - Maybe it is just like flipping a light switch for Mississippi State University senior pitcher Kendall Graveman.
The coaches, teammates and fans of the Bulldogs program have just grown accustomed to watching the right-handed veteran put up a performance in a Southeastern Conference opening weekend like he did Sunday afternoon. In front of announced crowd of 7,686 at Dudy Noble Field who were desperate to not see their team swept by Louisiana State University in Starkville for the first time since 1975, Graveman (2-1) contributed six solid innings in a dominating 10-2 victory over the No. 7 Tigers Sunday.
"Later in the season, it always happens this way where you start to feel more comfortable and you really know what pitches you want to go to in certain situations," Graveman said. "I think more and more you'll start to see six and seven inning starts from our rotation."
Graveman's his power sink found LSU hitters grounding out 10 times including three double plays as the senior from Alexander City, Ala., limited a high powered LSU (18-2, 2-1) to just seven hits and a single run in a 91-pitch effort.
"Really proud of Kendall today (because) he took our ball club on his shoulders today and wanted to make a statement for our club and I think be did," MSU coach John Cohen said. "Even when we got up, he pitched out of jams and did a nice job."
Graveman became only the second MSU pitcher this month to provide a quality start after No. 13 MSU (19-4, 1-2) had been forced to rely on the bullpen through the last 14 games without a pitcher even getting out of the sixth inning. The 6-foot-2 pitcher, who was selected in the 36th round by the Miami Marlins in the 2012 MLB draft, threw a complete game victory last season in a Sunday finale win over LSU in Baton Rouge, La., to salvage a victory in the SEC opening three-game series.
In this blowout victory over LSU, Graveman manufactured 10 of his 18 outs in the ground ball variety including three double plays from a defense that currently leads the nation with 31 in 22 games this season.
"It's certainly nice on a Sunday to have a guy that has the experience he does," Cohen said. "We've been telling our guys the last week to not lose your identity. If you're a ground ball (pitcher) then go get your ground balls and that's exactly what Kendall did there."
The MSU offense finally took advantage of inexperience on the mound as sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn (3-1) was making his first career SEC start for the Tigers and was pounded for six earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings. Glenn, who was drafted two years ago by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Westbury Christian High School in Houston, was unable to effectively change speeds against the top of the Bulldogs order. Of the six hits given up by Glenn, four of them came against MSU's top five hitters in the order.
"He was a big changeup guy and a couple of guys did a real good job just sitting back at it," MSU first baseman Wes Rea said. "He was missing with his fastball a lot today so we didn't force anything and let it happen at the plate. That was key for us to get big hits."
MSU junior infielder Brett Pirtle saw his batting avg. climb from .163 to .255 after a 3 for 4 day at the plate. The junior college transfer from Texas had two runs scored and a RBI fron the No. 9 spot in the lineup after MSU had gone 2 for 23 in the 7-8-9 holes of the order the first two days of the series.
"From the right-handed side, I've started to see the ball a little bit better in order to get the barrel on them quicker," Pirtle said. "We tried to stay simple and up the middle with our approach and it was a big confidence boost for the guys today."
For the third consecutive season, MSU has managed to come away victorious with the Sunday finale after losing the first two conference games of the year. After the 10-2 win, Cohen stressed that the momentum of how the Bulldogs rallied today has to carry them into a road series next weekend to the University of Kentucky, where Cohen spent five seasons before accepting the job at his alma mater in Starkville.
"Immediately your mind wants to wander to Friday night where you're up 4-1 and if you make one different pitch to (LSU power hitter) Mason Katz that changes everything," Cohen said. "That's the nature of this league though. If you make one mistake, these hitters will punish you."
Before the trip to Lexington, Ky., MSU will host Alcorn State (3-17) for a Tuesday night contest at 6:30 p.m. where Bulldogs sophomore right-handed pitcher Brandon Woodruff (1-1, 3.38) is scheduled to get the start.
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