By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Kendall Graveman vividly recalls sitting in the dugout at Florida’s McKethan Stadium two years ago, glumly watching Florida celebrate a super regional victory over Mississippi State. He does not want a repeat of that simmering day in Gainesville.
“That taste is still in your mouth,” Graveman said. “You don’t ever lose sight of that, no matter now long you play. The guys that were on that team, we still remember that feeling that we sat there in Gainesville in the other dugout and just sat after the game.
“That’s one thing you don’t lose sight of.”
Graveman and the No. 14-ranked Bulldogs have another crack at a super regional when they play Virginia this weekend. Game 1 in Charlottesville is set for noon Central time Saturday.
Two wins, and MSU (46-18) will find itself in the College World Series for the ninth time in program history. But Virginia poses a formidable obstacle.
The No. 6 Cavaliers (50-10) have exceeded expectations this season, finishing second in the ACC Coastal Division despite a relatively young roster. They hit .313 as a team, led by sophomore Mike Papi, who’s hitting .393 with six home runs and 55 RBIs.
“They have the flexibility to be left-handed and right-handed against you. They started five left-handed hitters against the right-handed pitcher from Army,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “So just watching them on film they’re a great club, they don’t make mistakes. They’re very good at home.”
Virginia is 35-3 at home this season, and those losses came by a combined four runs.
UVA plays at the very roomy Davenport Field, which measures 335 feet down the lines, 377 to the gaps, and 408 to center field. That means the Cavaliers rely less on power and more on stringing together hits and using speed on the basepaths.
That’s MSU’s style as well, so the Bulldogs should feel comfortable at this ballpark.
“It’s going to be a line drive, groundball ballpark, and that’s how our team’s made,” MSU outfielder Hunter Renfroe said. “Every once in a while you hit one, it may leave the park, but that’s not what we’re looking for.”
On the mound, the Cavs are led by left-handers Scott Silverstein (10-1, 2.86 ERA) and Brandon Waddell (6-2, 3.80).
Coach Brian O’Connor has a solid bullpen, too, with closer Kyle Crockett notching 12 saves so far this year.
“They’ve got a lot of left-handed pitching. They’re going to try to get ahead of us, bury the breaking ball,” Renfroe said.
It’s a tough matchup, but one Graveman is eager for. The super regional loss two years ago is on his mind this week, and he’s going to make sure the younger players have the right mindset in Charlottesville.
“We didn’t finish in Gainesville that year,” he said, “but for this year that may be one of the words that we use for the younger guys, is, hey, it’s not over. You get a lead, anything – anything can happen this time of year.”