FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas felt good about its chances of winning another Southeastern Conference series with junior Ryne Stanek starting Saturday.
But the SEC’s reigning Pitcher of the Week wasn’t the most dominant person on the mound in Baum Stadium. That title went to Mississippi State’s Kendall Graveman.
Graveman’s complete-game performance led No. 25 Mississippi State to a 4-1 win in front of an announced crowd of 6,023 in Baum Stadium. The right-hander allowed a first-inning run on two hits, but handcuffed the 15th-ranked Razorbacks (20-8, 5-3) the rest of the game to help Mississippi State (23-7, 3-5) even the three-game series.
The teams will meet for the deciding game at 1:05 p.m. today. Arkansas will send Randall Fant to the mound, while Mississippi State’s starter has not been named.
But Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said one thing is clear: The Razorbacks must figure out a way to rebound at the plate after being dominated by Graveman.
“The bottom line is we didn’t do much against Graveman,” Van Horn said. “He just did a super job. … When he gets it rolling a little bit he can get you out quick.”
Graveman allowed five hits, struck out five and didn’t issue any walks Saturday.
He needed only 99 pitches — 36 of which came in the eighth and ninth innings combined — to beat the Razorbacks and collect the fourth complete game of his career. Graveman recorded 18 ground ball outs Saturday.
“You expect that from a senior who has done this before,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “He did a great job against a really aggressive Arkansas team that was really on a roll. I thought he put our team on his back and said we’re going to get this done. He got through the first inning and really pitched.
“He only threw 99 pitches. That’s ridiculous.”
His only blemish came in the first inning when he surrendered a two-out double by Van Buren’s Tyler Spoon and RBI single from Brian Anderson. Arkansas, which took an aggressive approach at the plate, didn’t put up much of a fight the rest of the way.
Graveman (3-2) retired the final batter — first baseman Dominic Ficociello — to get out of the inning. It started a stretch in which Graveman retired 21 straight batters.
“My mental approach was to not give them anything — no walks, hit batters,” Graveman said of his performance. “That was my whole goal, set a good tempo and get in good rhythm and not give them anything.”
Mississippi State scored more than enough with Graveman cruising to win Saturday.
C.T. Bradford led off the fourth inning and reached base on a fielding error by Ficociello. Hunter Renfroe followed with a base hit and the Bulldogs tied the game with an RBI single from Wes Rea. The Bulldogs eventually loaded the bases and scored the go-ahead run when Stanek (2-2) walked Jacob Robson.
MSU tacked on one run in the fifth and another in the sixth to build a three-run lead. Stanek allowed three runs, one earned, on three hits in four innings a week after his complete-game win at South Carolina.
“Stanek got a little wild,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know how many pitches he threw there in the fourth inning. But his pitch count was in the upper 80s after four. We gave him another hitter in the fifth and then we got him.”
Meanwhile, Graveman’s streak of retired batters ended with two outs in the eighth, when he hit Arkansas catcher Jake Wise. Center fielder Jacob Morris followed with a single, but the inning ended when third baseman Jacob Mahan grounded out.
He was in another tight spot in the ninth after Spoon and Anderson singled with one out. Graveman got Matt Vinson to ground out to first base, then struck out Ficociello.
Graveman’s complete game was Mississippi State’s first this season.
It snapped Arkansas’ win streak at six games.
“The toughest team wins on Sunday,” Spoon said. “We’re going to battle. This is an SEC weekend. It’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be easy. It’s never going to be just given to you. So we’re going to come out and battle and do our best to win.”