With new alignment, Braves take two of three from Devils

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 15, 2005

LORMAN &045; Taking two out of three from Mississippi Valley was good enough.

Being able to do it while not being cooped up in a bus for six hours may have made it even sweeter.

Alcorn benefited from the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s new alignment this season where teams are playing three-game sets on weekends for conference as opposed to the consecutive doubleheader format in recent years. The schedule calls for a nine-inning game the first day and two seven-inning contests on Saturday.

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That was the format for the Valley series, one that in the past had Alcorn traveling to Itta Bena for two and had the Delta Devils driving to Lorman the next day and playing two more.

&uot;This is way better,&uot; Alcorn second baseman Corey Wimberly said. &uot;You get to rest a little bit. (Last year) after the game you have to go to sleep, get up at 6 and hit the road. It’s way more easier for both teams (now). Plus, a team gets home-field advantage.&uot;

The Braves took two of three from the Delta Devils, who came into the weekend undefeated in conference at 6-0. The Braves will return the favor April 15-16 when they got to Itta Bena, but for the first time in several years they’ll actually spend the night up there.

They won’t have to drive back and hope the bus doesn’t break down on the way home as it did last season.

&uot;It’s so much better,&uot; said Valley head coach Doug Shanks, now in his third season and a vocal supporter of the three-games series. &uot;It makes the trip so much more palatable. We spent the night in Natchez (Friday). I think that’s going to make the SWAC much better.&uot;

Everyone involved benefits from the Valley-Alcorn series not being broken up any more, although Valley and Jackson will continue to use that format. Jackson State and Alcorn, too, will keep the old format.

But the three-game sets instead of four benefits each team’s pitching more than anything. Now the Braves need just three solid starters instead of four and can decrease the mileage on their bullpen.

Teams will play 23 innings a series instead of 27. And the more nine-inning contests a team gets in, the better its RPI rating.

&uot;You’ve got to play 28 Division I ball games for the NCAA,&uot; Alcorn head coach Willie &uot;Rat&uot; McGowan said. &uot;We had that with the four-game series. Now a lot of coaches look at the three-game series because they don’t have that extra pitching. It could go either way with me. The only thing I can see if you’ve got three good pitchers you’d be in there.&uot;

McGowan cited the money issue for the four-game sets and the Valley trips &045; both were done at minimal costs for lodging and food since Alcorn’s baseball program does not charge admission and is considered a non-revenue sport.

Still, the current three-game sets at Alabama A&M or Alabama State call for the team to spend one night in a hotel. Those costs are alleviated with the sets against Jackson State.

&uot;These universities &045; what they look at is the expense,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;They’re trying to cut revenue down for non-revenue sports. There’s only so much you can get, unless you get out and raise your own money.&uot;

That, Shanks said, could change as long as Alcorn officials proceed with plans for construction at the facility. School officials released details of the project prior to the 2004 season and expect construction to begin after the current season is complete.

&uot;That’s the name of the game,&uot; Shanks said. &uot;If Rat gets his new stadium, it’ll be similar to what happened at Mississippi State. You’ll have 1,000, 3,000 and then 5,000. That may sound like dreaming, but college baseball is booming, and it’s only going to get better. Rat and I may be retired up there watching it.&uot;

CLARKE CATCHES ON &045; Alcorn regular third baseman Jermaine Clarke hadn’t been summoned to pitch since his last start at Alabama State. And it was one he’d like to forget.

But he came back and got the start in the second game for the Braves and finished in solid fashion. It was well-received for a right-hander who didn’t throw at all last weekend against Alabama A&M.;

&uot;I had about a week and a half off,&uot; Clarke said. &uot;It makes you a little stronger. I didn’t pitch at all (last week). I just had to step up and win that game. We’ve got to make it happen. We had to at least take two out of three. That’s who we’re going to have to beat to get in first, and we know that.&uot;