By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
It should be daunting to open SEC play with a pair of freshmen on the mound, but John Cohen doesn’t view it that way.
When his Mississippi State team takes on Florida in Gainesville this weekend, Cohen will send freshman Kendall Graveman to the mound for today’s 6:30 p.m. tilt, then Tupelo freshman Chris Stratton on Saturday.
Sophomore Nick Routt gets the call Sunday.
No. 6 Florida (13-3) will counter with a sophomore and a freshman those first two days (Sunday’s starter is undecided).
“I don’t know if there’s a team in the Southeastern Conference who’s going freshman, freshman, sophomore on the weekends,” said Cohen, who’s in his second year as head coach. “When we took over this program, we knew this is where we were heading. Everybody else you’re competing against, they’re going to go junior, senior, maybe a younger guy, but that’s just where we are.
“It’s kind of fun to be here, because you know it’s going to pay off in the future.”
If MSU (11-6) hopes to avoid a third consecutive last-place finish in the SEC, the future needs to be now. Graveman (1-0, 3.78) and Stratton (2-2, 2.95) aren’t the only freshmen arms Cohen is counting on. In fact, freshmen have accounted for 52.9 percent of innings thrown for MSU this season.
Guys like Luke Bole, Ben Bracewell, Chad Girodo and C.C. Watson have also contributed and are expected to continue doing so in a relief role. Bole and Girodo have also drawn starts this season, and the rotation will be fluid.
The Bulldogs are stocked with freshmen elsewhere, too. Sam Frost starts at second base, and Jonathan Ogden holds down shortstop. Junior college transfer Nick Vickerson is at third.
That makes the presence of senior first baseman Connor Powers all the more valuable. He turned down good money from the Los Angeles Dodgers to return to Starkville, and he’s torn it up, hitting a team-best .409 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs.
“He’s obviously taken some big swings for us this spring thus far,” Cohen said. “He’s been a great leader as far as the other guys, and quite frankly we need that, because we don’t have a lot of older guys in the program.”
Powers likes what he sees in the new infielders and feels confident in their defensive abilities. And he has gladly taken on the role of mentor.
“I try to take a lot of responsibility, because I remember when I was a freshman, and I didn’t really know what was going on,” Powers said. “Especially when games start, you really need to help them out with the detail stuff.”
State has already faced some tough competition, like Oklahoma and UCLA. And while opening at Florida is an unenviable task, Cohen doesn’t worry about that too much.
“Would you rather open up at South Carolina, or at LSU, or at Arkansas, or at Alabama? I mean, it really doesn’t matter, everywhere in the league is the same. Everybody’s good.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This weekend’s rotation
– Tonight: Mississippi State RHP Kendall Graveman (1-0, 3.78) vs. Florida LHP Alex Panteliodis (4-0, 1.10)
n Saturday: Mississippi State RHP Chris Stratton (2-2, 2.95) vs. Florida LHP Brian Johnson (1-1, 5.52)
n Sunday: Mississippi State LHP Nick Routt (1-1, 7.27) vs. Florida TBA