Former AC hurler keys Meridian to regional

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

MERIDIAN &045; Gone are the days of Christopher Rayborn reaching back and firing a fastball by a batter.

But gone, too, are Rayborn’s days as the ace of the Adams Christian pitching staff.

Now Rayborn is a freshman for Meridian Community College, and he and the Eagles have a shot this weekend at making the National Junior College World Series if they can get by Faulkner State in a best-of-three series this weekend.

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And while things may be noticeably different for the right-handed Rayborn, all it took was a little adjustment and workouts with MCC head coach Mike Federico. He’ll likely start one of the games in today’s doubleheader at Bay Minette, Ala.

&uot;Coach Fed has really worked with me a lot,&uot; said Rayborn, whose 1.86 ERA is tops on the team. &uot;He’s made me pretty much a completely different pitcher. He found a few things in my mechanics I was doing wrong. I’m throwing a straight fastball instead of a four-seamer, and it’s got a lot of movement on it. Plus, I’m getting stronger and putting on a lot of weight.&uot;

The weights have helped the lanky 6-2 Rayborn, who fastball has topped out at 92 this spring but has consistently been from 88-91 mph. He has stepped into a rotation that features two Division I signees &045; ace Todd Doolittle (Mississippi State) and starter Damien Givens (Southern University).

&uot;We moved his arm slot a little bit, and he’s getting a little more on his fastball,&uot; Federico said. &uot;He’s developed a changeup, and we’re still working on his slider a little bit. He’s had an OK year. He’s still learning and starting to understand the game at this level. But we’re expecting a lot from his this weekend.&uot;

As expected, the pace of the game at the junior college level is much faster than that of the high school level, but Rayborn has adjusted. He notched a win in the Region 23 tournament last weekend as the Eagles won the title for the right to face Faulkner.

Doolittle is the ace, and Federico said if he had to classify Rayborn as a defined slot in the staff, it would be the No. 2. Rayborn has taken to the alterations well, sporting a 9-2 record with 11 starts, three complete games, 12 walks and 62 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched.

&uot;The biggest thing about him is he’s matured a whole lot,&uot; Federico said. &uot;I think being away from home helped him, and I think he just matured. He worked hard in the weight room, and he put on about 15 pounds or so. So he’s gotten stronger. He (Doolittle) and Christopher have been back and forth. I’d say (Rayborn) is our No. 2.&uot;

Doolittle is right behind Rayborn in ERA at 2.28 with 93 strikeouts in 71 innings.

&uot;It’s pretty awesome,&uot; Rayborn said of the staff. &uot;We’ve got a pretty solid staff. In high school you can get by with missing your spots a lot because you can throw it by those kids. Here you’ve got to hit your spots. If you make a mistake, they’ll make you pay for it. You’ve got to spot up.&uot;

Rayborn was on the mound in the Eagles’ 6-2 win over Delgado May 9 before the Eagles dropped a game to Gulf Coast Saturday. They then came back to beat Gulf Coast twice &045;7-2 and 16-4 &045; Sunday to claim the region title and land a spot in this weekend’s super regional.

&uot;Everybody had already pitched,&uot; Rayborn said. &uot;Double-elimination, four-day tournament &045; both of us won our first two games. Then they beat us, and we had to beat them twice. It really took a lot of pressure off the pitchers scoring that many runs.

&uot;I heard (Faulkner) is not a long-ball hitting team. They like to bunt guys over, hit and run, squeeze and stuff like that. They don’t have any dominant pitchers, but they’ve been playing well lately. If we get out there, do what we need to do and take care of business, we’ll win. We’ve been playing pretty well lately, too.&uot;

If the two teams split the doubleheader today, they will come back for a 3 p.m. single game Saturday for the deciding game. The Eagles are searching for their first trip to the World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., since they finished fifth in 2000.

&uot;We’ve got to win two out of three on their turf,&uot; Federico said.