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25 March 2008

JSU Baseball vs. Alabama-
Tuscaloosa Today...Home Field Tomorrow

By Bran Strickland
Star Sports Editor

Reprinted here in its entirety.

JSU, King Stepping onto Big Stage

JACKSONVILLE For Jacksonville State, the stage for the next two days will be bigger. Not because of the dimensions of park, but because of the opponent the Gamecocks will face inside it.

For their hurler Justin King, today will likely be bigger, too for the same reason.

Jacksonville State plays its big-fish, in-state opponent for the first time since the 2006 NCAA Regional, where the Gamecocks fell 13-1.

That same game saw King, then a freshman transfer from Tuscaloosa, give up five runs, one hit and three walks in 2/3 of an inning of work.

"Certainly it means more to him because he started down there," Case said. "I'm sure, still has friends down there, but regarding who team is, the biggest thing for Justin is to take advantage of the opportunity and put some good outings back to back. That's what he's looking to do."

Between the time of that outing and today's possible start according to Case King has embarked on a journey that could have him back on track to becoming the dominant pitcher he was in high school.

It was discovered that the hard-throwing righty had circulation issues in his pitching arm, causing him to lose sensation in his fingers. Unable to feel the seams a critical part of pitching his pitching was erratic and numbers inflated.

Since having offseason surgery to correct the problem shortly after the 2007 Ohio Valley Conference tournament, Case said he's seen an improvement in his pitcher. The improvement can be seen in the box scores, too.

King, a 6-foot-5 junior, has cut his JSU career ERA in half from 11.25 in 2006 and 2007 to 5.02 in 2008.

"He's made a lot of progress," Case said. " There's still much, much room for him to get better. It's a great opportunity for him."

Just as King has room for improvement, Case is looking at these two games the opponent notwithstanding for much the same thing.

The Gamecocks (9-12) have had problems this season with limiting opponents in the early going. So far, the Gamcocks have been outscored 65-21 in the first three innings. On the plus side, Jacksonville State has proved it can come back, putting together a mad dash of runs late in games which they did in two of three games this past weekend. In those games, the Gamecocks were 1-1.

The bullpen has been the star of the staff namely Jones. He has a third of the team's wins and has saved four other games.

Alabama isn't without its struggles either.

The Crimson Tide, .500 on the season and 2-4 in league play, might be on the verge of turning things around. Alabama, which has struggled on the mound recently, posted a 2.33 ERA in a weekend series victory against fourth-ranked Vanderbilt. Alabama used only four pitchers the entire weekend.

Tide coach Jim Wells said Monday he was undecided on exactly who would take the mound for the two-game series, but gave a cast of possibles: senior lefty Will Stroup (2-1, 6.00), junior lefty Miers Quigley (1-1, 7.20), junior right hander Casey Kebodeaux (2-2, 5.08) and sophomore lefty Del Howell (0-0, 3.97).

Today: JSU at Alabama
6:35 p.m

Wednesday: Alabama at JSU
6:30 p.m.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt covers K-12 schools and higher education for The Star.

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