Wimberly, pitching key for Braves in SWAC Tourney

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2005

LORMAN &045; There is a positive to being totally idle for nearly three weeks.

Corey Wimberly had a chance to rest his aching right shoulder.

Everyone else used it as a breather, although an ideal situation would have had the Alcorn State Braves playing somebody in a different uniform. Instead, it’s been all intrasquad scrimmages and all waiting for the day they finally get on a bus bound for Birmingham, Ala., to begin play in the SWAC tournament.

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That day will be Tuesday. The Braves will practice Wednesday and face Texas Southern in the opener on Thursday.

And Wimberly couldn’t be happier.

&uot;I had an MRI done, and (the doctor) told me basically that I was going to be OK,&uot; said Wimberly, the Braves’ leadoff hitter who will be near the top of the agenda for scouts at the tournament. &uot;I’ve just got to play through the pain. It’s getting better every day. I’m about 80 percent, and I’m trying to get 90 for the tournament.&uot;

Wimberly may be one of the feature attractions at the tournament as he and Jackson State slugger Carl Lipsey may be the favorites for the SWAC Player of the Year award. But all of that is secondary for the nation’s leading hitter at .472 who was slowed by a shoulder injury in the Mississippi Valley series April 15 and 16.

He played sparingly in that series and returned in the DH role against Jackson State to finish out the series. He may play the field this week in the tournament and be back to his old self at the plate, on the bases and at second base.

&uot;We’re not pushing him,&uot; Alcorn head coach Willie &uot;Rat&uot; McGowan said. &uot;Really, the injury he’s got is a little better than what I thought and what the trainer thought. He’s not improving the way we would have liked to. We sent him back to the doctor (Friday). He’s been practicing hard. We’re just telling him don’t put too much pressure on his arm.&uot;

Yet telling someone who commonly arrives at practice early and stays late to not push himself too hard is almost an effort in futility. Wimberly wants to make the best of his second year with the Braves, and he’s done that by garnering nearly as many honors as stolen bases this season.

He’s a candidate for several awards, including the Ferris Trophy that will be awarded May 23 for the best college player in the state. Wimberly also drew a mention in USA Today Thursday with comparisons to former Southern infielder Rickie Weeks.

&uot;I’m going to be on the field,&uot; Wimberly said. &uot;I’ll be there for sure. Everybody is really excited. You’ve got to go out and perform. Everybody pretty much has good talent. It’s just who performs better that day.&uot;

The Braves can also solidify their infield better when Wimberly is in at second base. When he was out, they moved Kevin Gaston to second, Greg White to short and Jermaine Clarke from first to third with freshman Johnny Perez at first.

But then again, the shoulder may cause problems on long throws on balls hit up the middle.

&uot;Even if he can’t play defense, we can still use him as the DH,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;I sat him down the other day, and he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be ready.’ I think he knows when he’s in there the team is going to be better. I’d rather have him at 75-80 percent than not at all. I think his numbers would be better in stolen bases if he wouldn’t have gotten hurt.&uot;

Outside of Wimberly, the Braves are trying to get their pitching assignments ironed out as the season ended on a shaky note following the injury to No. 1 starter Earl Smith. The Braves then moved freshman B.K. Short up to that top spot, but he struggled against both Valley and Jackson.

Patrick Long may get the start against Texas Southern Thursday.

&uot;We had a good four days off before we came back to practice, and everybody got a chance to recuperate,&uot; catcher Larry Pierce said. &uot;We’re the only ones out here (on campus). It kind of hurt us when we lost Earl, but we lost him earlier in the year. Pat Long has done pretty well. Although B.K. has had a couple of rough outings, he’s used the break to get better.&uot;

Long finished the season strong with the best ERA among the team’s starters at 4.77. He got the start in Game 1 of the Valley series and did well but suffered from lack of run support in a 2-1 loss.

&uot;I’m going with experience first,&uot; McGowan said. &uot;(Short) hasn’t been able to continue that. He’s pitched some great ball games, but when we played Valley, Jackson and Belhaven, he kind of fell off a little bit. But he’ll fight back and get in that situation.&uot;