By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – Kendall Graveman’s eyes were red from the sting of losing. But in that moment, he knew that at some point, the pain would recede and the positive thoughts would resurface.
Immediate consolation doesn’t come easy for a team that missed out on a national championship. That’s especially true for a senior like Graveman, a right-handed pitcher who was a big reason Mississippi State reached the finals of the College World Series for the first time.
The Bulldogs lost to UCLA in two games, falling short of the program’s first national title in any sport. As Graveman digested the hurt, he was able to foresee a day when this memory would, on the whole, be a good one.
“I can’t pinpoint a time, but I just told (my teammates) the relationships I built this year and over the past four years is something I’ll never forget,” Graveman said. “I’ll forget half the plays that happened in the College World Series, and I won’t forget what place we came in, but one thing I won’t forget is the people I’ve been involved with this past year and what an impact they’ve made on my life.
“That’s something that really will stick out to me. Even right now after a tough loss, I kind of reflect on those things.”
MSU, which finished the season 51-20, made what could be considered an unlikely run to the CWS title series. After finishing fifth overall in the SEC, State hosted a regional for the first time in 10 years and won it.
Then it went to Charlottesville, Va., and won a super regional against Virginia in two games. Then it started 3-0 here for the first time.
Along the way, the Bulldogs earned a reputation as a fun-loving group that valued beards and eschewed undershirts. They were quirky, enthusiastic and almost impossible to rattle.
Several players have said that this was the most tightly knit team they’d ever been a part of, at MSU or anywhere else.
“I felt like this group was more of a family than any team I’ve ever been a part of,” junior shortstop Adam Frazier said.
Graveman was part of the first signing class that John Cohen was able to fully recruit. His freshman year, MSU won just 23 games, two fewer than the year before and same number as in 2008, Ron Polk’s final season as coach.
John Cohen managed to bring in enough guys to set a foundation, including Ben Bracewell, Sam Frost and Chad Girodo, all of whom were key contributors this year.
“That’s where we were, and we were starting from ground zero,” Cohen said. “We got there, we had no commitments, we didn’t have a signing class, we didn’t have anything. This group believed in our coaching staff; they believed in Mississippi State.”
MSU won a regional in 2011, won the SEC Tournament in 2012, and then made this run to Omaha. That’s rapid progress, and the confidence Cohen expressed when he was hired five years ago has spread throughout the entire program.
In the fall, first baseman Wes Rea told fans, via Twitter, to “book your rooms” for Omaha, and the Bulldogs never wavered in the belief that they would earn the program’s ninth trip here.
“You can’t do something until you believe it, and you’ve got to keep building,” Cohen said. “We’ve been building, building, building, and all of it helps the recruiting part of it. I think there are a ton of kids who want to be a part of Mississippi State at this point in time.
“I can tell you, when we first got to Mississippi State that was not necessarily the case. Every part of it was a struggle.
“We’ll always be forever indebted to those kids who took a chance on us when things weren’t going great in our program. Those kids are the reasons why we’re here today.”