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USM's Stewart proves he's got it

By By Stan Caldwell / Special to The Star
May 20, 2002
HATTIESBURG In college baseball, earning the title of Sunday Starter is not necessarily a good thing.
A Sunday Starter is the third guy on a pitching staff that may only go two deep; that is, in a traditional weekend conference series pitching sequence, a team goes with its best starter on Friday, its second best guy on Saturday, then the best of the rest on Sunday.
But at the University of Southern Mississippi, Daniel Stewart doesn't mind being called a Sunday Starter, because that means he's getting a chance to pitch in Division I baseball on a regular basis. In the early part of the 2002 season, it wasn't certain he would have that chance.
Stewart, a senior from West Lauderdale High who starred two years at Meridian Community College, found a year's experience at USM made a difference.
Still, Stewart pitched well enough last season to enter the season as the projected No. 2 starter behind senior Shea Douglas after finishing 5-4, with a 4.65 ERA in 16 appearances, including 13 starts.
But that job went to sophomore Bob McCrory, and with senior Charlie Rogers set as the Sunday Starter, Stewart was relegated to the midweek starter/long relief role. However, after defeating MSU on April 17 with a complete game, giving up three runs on four hits in a 6-3 win, Palmer moved Stewart to the No. 3 spot.
Although Stewart has been saddled with losses in his last two appearances, nothing drastic has happened to dislodge Stewart from that spot nothing that is except two straight losses in this week's Conference USA Tournament. If that happens, then Stewart may well have made his last pitch for the Golden Eagles.
Should Stewart have indeed thrown his last pitch in college, chances are that pitch was a curveball, or maybe a slider, away, his most consistent out pitches.
Stewart is described as a finesse pitcher, who wins with guile and good physical conditioning rather than overpowering speed, although he's a solid athlete at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds. For the season, he's posted a 5-4 record, with a 4.32 ERA in 79 1/3 innings. He's made 14 appearances, 12 starts.
Anyone who studies Stewart's background shouldn't be surprised at his composure. Here's a guy who lost the first game of the state finals his senior year in high school by a 2-1 score, then came back to win the second game of the series, by a similar 2-1 score.
Stewart's effort in 1998 helped West Lauderdale come back to defeat Amory and give coach Jerry Boatner the seventh of nine Class 3A state championships. He finished 12-3 as a senior, with 149 strikeouts in 89 innings.
Stewart played two seasons at MCC for coach Scott Berry, finishing as a sophomore in 2000 with a 9-4 record with a 2.72 ERA after going 7-1 in 62 innings as a freshman in leading the Eagles to the Mississippi-Louisiana Conference championship in 1999.
After his two years at MCC, Stewart followed Berry and infielder Allen Winningham to USM.
But Stewart has to hope that his last two efforts, in what has become a four-game losing streak at the worst possible time, don't spoil the Eagles' season and cost the team a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Stewart absorbed the loss on May 12 against East Carolina, when he left in the sixth inning with a 5-5 tie only to watch ECU's winning run come home from third base on a wild pitch.
Saturday against Tulane, in the final game of the season-ending three-game series at New Orleans, Stewart was pulled in the fifth inning after giving up six runs. But only two of those were earned after the Golden Eagles committed three errors behind him; he gave up just two hits, but did walk three.
Whether Stewart pitches again depends on what the Golden Eagles do in the first two rounds of the C-USA Tournament, which begins Tuesday at Kinston, N.C. USM (35-20 overall) finished fourth in the conference standings at 18-11, meaning the Eagles play Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against the same Green Wave (33-23, 17-13).
If they win at least one game somewhere in the tournament, the Golden Eagles may well have to confront No. 1 seed Houston, or the surging Green Wave yet again, with their Sunday Starter. And if that's the case, they've got a guy who's been there before.

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