By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Kendall Graveman had to overcome some uncharacteristically poor defense by his team and by himself, but he finally got an elusive victory.
The senior right-hander tossed 61⁄3 strong innings, and No. 14 Mississippi State defeated Central Arkansas 5-3 on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA regional at Dudy Noble Field.
A crowd of 11,102 turned out for the first regional hosted by MSU in 10 years, and they saw the Bulldogs gain revenge on UCA, which won two of three here in the regular season.
When Graveman (6-5) exited in the seventh inning, he got a standing ovation, having given up two runs – one earned – on four hits with five strikeouts.
It was his first win since April 13.
“I really don’t think about my stats,” Graveman said. “If we’re winning ballgames, that’s what I’m all about.”
MSU (44-17) will play South Alabama at 7 p.m. today, while UCA (39-21) will face Mercer at 2 in an elimination game.
State won despite committing four errors, two of them by Graveman. In fact, MSU is 3-0 this year when making four errors.
MSU opened things up with a three-run sixth inning. Adam Frazier’s groundout gave State a 3-2 lead, then an Alex Detz infield single and a Hunter Renfroe double past third base scored two more runs.
State did have some good defense, including a double play that Graveman started when he snagged a Forrestt Allday line drive in the fourth. In the sixth, MSU turned two on a bunt attempt, nailing runners at third and first base.
“That was the play of the game,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “That inning could’ve gone a drastically different direction, and it didn’t.”
Wes Rea had two hits and two RBIs for MSU.
UCA took a 2-1 lead in the fourth thanks to three MSU errors. Garrett Brown reached on Frazier’s miscue, and then two errors by Graveman on a Justin Treece sac bunt allowed Brown to score.
Graveman covered first base on the play but couldn’t handle Rea’s throw, and then he overshot third base trying to cut down Brown.
Then MSU got a little help in the fifth when Brett Pirtle’s routine fly ball turned into a triple, because left fielder Ethan Harris lost it in the lights. Pirtle scored on Rea’s two-out single.