April 28, 2010 9:26:00 AM
When Brent Hallmark struggled with his control as a freshman pitcher at Delta State, he contemplated hanging up his cleats.
But Hallmark didn''t give up that easily and has persevered to become a solid late-inning reliever his sophomore season at Delta State.
Hallmark, a 2007 graduate of New Hope High School, has found a remedy for his control issues by going to a sidearm delivery as recommended by former Delta State and major league pitcher Matt Miller, and he''s thriving out of the bullpen.
"I was really having trouble when I was throwing over the top and I was probably at rock bottom of my baseball career as far as confidence wise," Hallmark said. "I was almost close to hanging it up. I did a lot of praying and asked (God) to open a new door and that''s when Matt Miller suggested I go down low. I stuck with it and kept working at it and that''s where I am at today."
The right-handed reliever has been instrumental in helping Delta State to a 34-14-1 record going into the Gulf South Conference Tournament, which starts Saturday at Millington, Tenn.
Hallmark (1-1) has pitched 19 innings in 15 appearances and he leads the team with an 0.95 ERA and three saves.
"He''s certainly been a big part of our bullpen," Delta State coach Mike Kinnison said. "He''s been one of the late relief guys for us and has taken on a pretty substantial role. He''s the guy we go to late in the bullpen.
"He''s not quite that guy that comes in and shuts everything down (by allowing 19 hits in 19 innings), but he''s been a solid relief guy. He''s pitched pretty well for us under pressure and certainly been a big part of our success this year."
Hallmark is third on the team in appearances behind Toby Easterly and Coty Saranthus with 16 each after pitching in only four games as a redshirt freshman last season.
He isn''t alarmed by giving up 19 hits because the batters who have gotten the hits haven''t scored as an indication of his ERA.
"Nineteen hits in 19 innings is just baseball," Hallmark said. "Some games you might not give up any hits and some innings you might give up two or three hits. I try to pitch to contact and let them get themselves out. Sometimes they get hits. The main thing is I''ve only given up two earned runs. That''s the biggest thing I''m worried about."
Hallmark is usually summoned in the eighth or ninth inning and he enjoys pitching in pressure situations when games are on the line.
"It''s probably one of my favorite positions," Hallmark said of being a late reliever. "I like the pressure part of it. I like coming in with the team counting on me. I try to do my best. I definitely like the pressure part of it."
Hallmark is happy he''s been able to solve his control issues so he can get the late-inning opportunities.
He''s glad he''s followed up on Miller''s suggestion to try a sidearm delivery and that he''s stuck with it.
Miller, who made his major league debut with Colorado in 2004 and last pitched for Cleveland in 2007, was serving as a volunteer assistant at Delta State when he suggested Hallmark try a sidearm delivery.
"I couldn''t decide if I wanted to go sidearm or not," Hallmark said. "I did a lot of thinking about it during Christmas. I came back in the spring and said, ''You know what? I''m just going to do it.'' I worked on it all spring. I didn''t throw but four innings last year during the spring season, but I kept working on it and then I went into this summer working real hard on it and I ended up having a good summer."
Hallmark had success with his delivery while pitching in the Cotton States League in New Albany this summer and it boosted his confidence when he returned to Delta State for school.
He feels comfortable with the sidearm delivery and it''s beginning to feel natural to him.
He still throws over the top on occasion to confuse the hitter and his control is much better than it was a season ago.
Hallmark believes he had to overcome a mental block in regard to his control and pitching sidearm helped him do that.
Kinnison is glad to see Hallmark overcome his control issues and contribute this season.
"He''s a great kid," Kinnison said. "I really admire the way he''s put things back together. He was going through a rough time with some control issues. I wish every player on our team worked as hard as he has worked for the success he has achieved."
Hallmark believes Delta State is ready for the Gulf South Tournament after beating No. 1 Southern Arkansas two of three games this past weekend.
Delta State plays Valdosta State in the opening round of the tournament.