May 30, 2013 12:05:07 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Kendall Graveman will get the honor of throwing the first pitch in Mississippi State University's first NCAA regional in 10 years.
MSU coach John Cohen announced Wednesday afternoon the Bulldogs senior right hander will get the start Friday night against the University of Central Arkansas for the opening round game of the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional at 7 p.m.
Graveman (5-5, 3.04) has had only two quality starts in his last six starts against SEC opponents but the MSU coaching staff felt most comfortable in giving the first postseason start to its most experienced starter against a right-handed dominate UCA (39-20) lineup.
"That's probably not a shock to anybody," Cohen said. "We are trying to win game one because if you do that, you can play a three-game set. Everybody in this tournament wants that opportunity to go 3-0 but you have to win game one to do that."
In the 7-3 loss to UCA on March 9 at Dudy Noble Field, Graveman struggled in MSU's first series loss of the 2013 season. The senior from Alexander City took the loss by giving up three earned runs on five hits and hit three batters in 98 pitches. Graveman went just 5 2/3 innings and left the mound with UCA holding a 4-2 lead.
"You can't replicate that kind of preparation when you can see what kind of swings guys were taking against your pitches," Graveman said Monday. "We know they have a lot of guys that hit the ball well against us so I really need to be focused in on our scouting reports on each hitter."
Just three weeks after taking that loss against UCA, Graveman went on a stretch where he earned three straight complete game victories against the University of Arkansas, University of Florida and Texas A&M University.
In his nine starts at Dudy Noble Field this season, Graveman has failed to last less than five innings only one time (a Feb. 23 start vs. Purdue University) and has a 3-2 victory in Starkville.
"We had a tough time getting (UCA) out but over the past couple of weeks, I feel our pitching staff is getting stronger and not weaker as the year goes on," Graveman said.
UCA coach Allen Gum immediately named senior right hander Caleb McClanahan (10-5, 2.17 ERA) will face top seed MSU in the second game Friday at 7 p.m.
"He's had (a long) week," Cohen said. "We're counting 249 pitches for him over a 10-day period for him. That guy is a warrior and he'll be ready on Friday night."
The senior first-team All-Southland Conference selection came back on two-days rest in Saturday morning's semifinal win over Oral Roberts University.
"Caleb's been really good about that," Gum said. "Just come right at them, here it is." And I tell you, the rest of the staff, the ones that have done really well, have just followed his lead. He's just been a horse for us. I"m proud as heck for him."
n NCAA committee chair says Mercer was last team in: NCAA baseball selection committee chairman Dennis Farrell said in a teleconference immediately after the bracket was announced Monday afternoon that Mercer University was the final team in the field and Michigan State University was the first team out.
"We had actually a number of teams that were under consideration, and then it came down to those last two and trying to compare their bodies of work," he said. "So I think that as we looked at Mercer and Michigan State, again, we zeroed in on non-conference strength of schedule and non-conference RPIs, and Mercer had just a little bit of an advantage over Michigan State in those."
Mercer (43-16) will play two-seed University of South Alabama (42-18) Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. for the opening game of the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional at Dudy Noble Field. It is Mercer's first at-large selection into the field after losing early in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
"That Starkville Regional also features another woefully under-seeded team in No. 3 Mercer (No. 28 in the RPI), which should have been a slam-dunk No. 2 seed after winning the Atlantic Sun regular-season title and going 43-16 overall," Baseball America national college baseball writer Aaron Fitt said.
Mercer sophomore third baseman Chesny Young was named the A-Sun Conference Player of the Year and he leads a Bears squad that had won 16 out of its last 20 games before the conference tournament.
Mercer won five straight A-league series to set a new program record for most wins in a single-season.
"The next step for our program was an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament," Mercer coach Craig Gibson said. "Getting that first ever at-large berth means so much for this program to know nationally our kids and program is taken seriously by the national public and not just in our area."