Braves count on freshman Jordan

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 19, 2006

on mound



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LORMAN &8212; Darryl Jordan was merely messing around during the off-season, trying to release the ball differently when something strange happened.

A cut fastball was born.

And Jordan went from the freshman right-hander from Chicago who may be able to contribute at Alcorn pretty quickly as the team&8217;s No. 1 weekend starter. Much of the credit goes to the cutter, but the first-year player has relied on guts to get to emerge as the team&8217;s top starter.

He may get the start on the mound Thursday when the Braves face Southern University to open the SWAC Tournament at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

&8220;He learned that pitch by himself &8212; we didn&8217;t teach it to him,&8221; Alcorn head coach Willie &8220;Rat&8221; McGowan said. &8220;Every time we&8217;ve pitched him, he&8217;s done well. He&8217;s the one who&8217;s really allowed us to get to this tournament. He&8217;s our ace. He&8217;s got a lot of guts and a lot of poise. He believes in himself and believes he can get the job done.&8221;

It&8217;s a pitch that tails away from a right-handed batter like a curveball, only comes out of the pitcher&8217;s hands looking like a fastball.

It&8217;s also a pitch that has helped him throw two shutouts this season in conference &8212; the only pitcher on staff to do that this season and the first Alcorn hurler to do so Dan Smith blanked Alabama A&M in 2003.

Jordan mixes in a fastball, curveball and the occasional changeup.

&8220;I kind of developed it on my own just playing around,&8221; Jordan said. &8220;The ball started cutting, and I started throwing it. If I strike out a batter, that&8217;s usually my strike-three pitch. I&8217;m just hitting my spots with the fastball and curve and a few changeups every now and then.&8221;

Not bad for a guy whom McGowan said was recruited as a position player coming out of Chicago&8217;s Simeon Career Academy. He was clocked in the mid-80s with his fastball, got the nod to throw and has since learned the pitch the Yankees&8217; Mariano Rivera uses as an out pitch.

Jordan has stepped up on a staff that may be the deepest Alcorn has had since that 2003 season. The Braves&8217; 5.69 team ERA is second-best in the conference.

&8220;There&8217;s probably only two or three guys in the conference to throw a cutter,&8221; Alcorn senior reliever Matt Chatwin said. &8220;He wasn&8217;t really a surprise, but he&8217;s stepped up. It&8217;s been more of a team pitching staff this year than last year. We&8217;ve had to rely on everybody, especially freshmen.&8221;

Jordan assumed the role of top weekend starter quickly after projected No. 1 Earl Smith battled control problems early in the season. His first weekend to get the first start came in the Alabama State series in Montgomery, and Jordan tossed a shutout in an 11-0 Braves win.

He got the win the next weekend in an 11-1 win over Alabama A&M, tossed a shutout his next start against Valley and didn&8217;t get his first loss until giving up five runs in the first in a 5-3 loss to Jackson State March 24. His 73 2/3 innings pitched is tops on the team.

&8220;I started off 4-0, and my defense was playing really well,&8221; Jordan said. &8220;It (No. 1 starter role) wasn&8217;t a goal, but I just wanted to pitch. It didn&8217;t matter if I pitched the first game or the third game. I just wanted to help my team win.&8221;

He&8217;s been a big key for the Braves, as had Chatwin &8212; the Canadian right-hander with the rubber arm who has resumed his role as stopper out of the pen. He&8217;s appeared in 15 games this season, a total that would be significantly higher had it not been for arm trouble early in the season.

Last season Chatwin led the team in appearances (21) and ERA (3.60) and earned Preseason All-SWAC honors heading into this season. He&8217;s battled back from arm trouble and was solid for 3 2/3 innings of mop-up duty against Southern Miss when he allowed only two hits and struck out four.

&8220;He was hurt, but I tell you what &8212; he&8217;s come on now,&8221; McGowan said. &8220;I was real impressed with him at Southern Miss. He just went in there and shut them down. We wish we would have had him in the first round (of conference), but now he&8217;s not having the arm problems.&8221;

Chatwin and Jordan are two reasons the veteran Alcorn coach feels good about heading into the tournament with the hopes of winning at least one game. The Braves lost in two last year due in part to a meltdown on the mound.

At this point, so much of it is about pitching. When the Braves dropped a 19-13 decision to Texas Southern last year to open the tournament, it puts their entire staff on its ear for the second game against Jackson State.

&8220;Last year going in as a third seed, we didn&8217;t have much of a chance,&8221; Chatwin said. &8220;This year, really, we feel like we&8217;re pretty good. This year we&8217;ve got a bigger staff and a lot more arms.&8221;