Busby gets start against FSU UAB, Mississippi State set for play Friday in Tallahassee Regional

Published 11:25 am Thursday, May 31, 2012

PEARL — A change in his pitching delivery has delivered a big moment for Michael Busby and the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers.

Sunday at Trustmark Park, the former Porters Chapel Academy player, pitched 22⁄3 innings of scoreless relief against Memphis to save the Conference USA championship game for the Blazers. With the 5-0 win, UAB (32-28) earned its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1991 and thesecond bid in school history.

Busby was named the tournament’s most valuable player after earning a win and a save for UAB. Next up is Friday’s date with Florida State (43-15) in the opening round of the Tallahassee Regional. The Blazers face the Seminoles at 5. Mississippi State (39-22), winners of the SEC Conference Tournament, meet Samford (39-21) in the regional opener at noon.

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Busby (5-4, 3.90 earned run average, 55 strikeouts) is scheduled to start on the mound against Florida State’s Scott Sitz (3-3, 4.14 ERA).

Busby’s run of late-season success might not have happened had he not changed his over-the-top delivery that he used to dominate opponents during his days at Porters Chapel (2004-07). The conventional windup took a toll on Busby’s arm and shoulder, leading to two major surgeries. The last one, following his freshman season at Mississippi State, was thought to have ended his career as a pitcher. He spent a full season at Hinds Community College as a position player and never took the mound. He still found success, helping the Eagles to a MACJC title in 2010 after batting .324 as a first baseman.

The year of rest did wonders for his arm and UAB coach Brian Shoop’s staff eased him back into a dual role as pitcher and part-time first baseman/designated hitter. At UAB, he went to a three-quarter pitching motion. It worked.

This season, Busby has looked like his old self. When he entered Sunday’s title game, the bases were loaded in a 3-0 game, with one out. Busby struck out two Memphis batters and got out of the jam.

“I felt great coming out of the pen,” Busby said. “I had only thrown 83 pitches in my start on Thursday (against Central Florida). My arm felt really loose.”

He struck out Memphis’ Ethan Gross on a 3-2

fastball low and away. He fanned the Tigers’ top hitter, Jacob Wilson, on three pitches, freezing him with a two-seam fastball.

UAB volunteer assistant coach and College Baseball Hall of Famer Ron Polk was impressed. Polk signed Busby out of PCA during his final season as coach at Mississippi State.

“He threw really, really well,” Polk said. “It reminded me a lot of when I saw him in high school.”

Busby credits the three-quarter delivery.

“It’s made a big difference,” Busby said. “It’s taken a lot of stress off my arm and shoulder. It took a while for me to adjust and I’ve been waiting to get over that hump.”

At the C-USA Tournament, he got over it. In his last three outings, Busby has two wins, a save and has allowed just two earned runs. Opponents are batting just .150 in that span.

“My ball has a lot of sink,” he said. “I’ve been able to get a lot of ground balls.”

Now, Florida State awaits.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to play in the NCAA Tournament,” Busby said. “I just thank God I get to play some more baseball. I don’t care who we play.”