Alcorn goes the distance for Golden Eagles

May, 30, 2009
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Whenever Tennessee Tech's Michael Alcorn comes off the mound and into the dugout during a game, Golden Eagles coach Matt Bragga looks for a sign from his pitcher.

If Alcorn gives his coach a thumbs-up, Bragga knows his pitcher's back is holding up.

Ever since Alcorn missed most of two seasons because of a degenerative back condition, Bragga isn't sure how long the senior can last on the mound.

In Saturday's elimination game of the Clemson Region, Bragga didn't have to worry about Alcorn's endurance. Alcorn threw the third complete game of his career, limiting No. 2 seed Alabama to nine hits in a 6-2 victory at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

The Golden Eagles won an NCAA tournament game for only the third time in school history and the first since 2001.

Tennessee Tech advanced to another elimination game Sunday, when it will play the loser of Saturday night's game between top seed Clemson and No. 3 seed Oklahoma State.

"I wanted to stay in there," said Alcorn, who threw 129 pitches, including 78 strikes. "I wanted to stay in there until Coach Bragga took me out. If I start something, I like to finish it."

No kidding.

Growing up near the Tennessee Tech campus in Cookeville, Tenn., Alcorn wanted nothing more than to pitch for the Golden Eagles. After a standout career at Cookeville High School, Alcorn realized that dream when he signed to play at Tech in 2005.

With his lively fastball and good command, Alcorn was going to be the pitcher who would become the centerpiece of Bragga's young program.

But after a promising start as a freshman in 2005, Alcorn's career nearly ended as soon as it started.

After starting only two games as a sophomore in 2006, doctors diagnosed Alcorn with two broken vertebrae in his back. He tried rehabilitation and returned to the mound, only to break a third vertebrae shortly thereafter.

After only six starts at Tennessee Tech, doctors advised Alcorn to retire from baseball.

So that's what he did.

"It was tough," Alcorn said. "It was probably the toughest thing I ever had to do."

But Alcorn probably didn't realize how tough he really is.

After Alcorn sat out the 2007 season, Bragga was close to making his pitcher's retirement official by declaring him medically unable to perform. Alcorn would keep his academic scholarship, but could no longer pitch for the Golden Eagles.

But with his back feeling better, Alcorn told Bragga he wanted to give it one more shot. He pitched in 14 games last season, compiling a 7-5 record with a 4.64 ERA.

Alcorn battled back problems again this season, but still managed to start eight games, compiling a 2-3 record with a 5.91 ERA.

In what might have been his last college start, Alcorn turned in the best performance of his life. He allowed one run in the second and one more in the seventh. At one point, he retired eight consecutive hitters and held the Tide's powerful lineup without a hit in four innings.

"He just did a good job of keeping the ball down and away," Alabama second baseman Ross Wilson said. "He really didn't miss on anyone. He'd throw the curveball and make you respect it. When a guy's keeping you off-balance like that, it's hard to hit."

Alcorn doesn't have overpowering stuff anymore. He says his fastball tops out at about 88 mph. After his back injury, he focused more on mechanics and pitching, rather than just throwing.

"I think the injury was a blessing in disguise," Alcorn said. "I don't think I would have been able to accomplish this if I didn't quit the first time. It would have gotten worse, and I wouldn't have been here today."

And without Alcorn, the Golden Eagles wouldn't be preparing for tomorrow.



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