Photo by Derrick Mahone
Darian Alston (left) is a do-it-all player for Jonesboro as it fights to stay in the top half of a crowded Region 4-AAAA.
JONESBORO — Darian Alston doesn’t mind being labeled a utility player, and that’s because the Jonesboro senior has goals that don’t just include himself.
“First off, I feel like if I don’t get my team incorporated into the game somehow, then we won’t get very far,” Alston said. “I care about this team as much as I care about my own future.”
That’s why, even in the midst of a solid season on the mound, Cardinals coach Dan Maehlman is comfortable placing him anywhere on the field at any time.
“I wouldn’t say he has just one natural position,” Maehlman said.
And that’s meant as a compliment.
“He can be a catcher, second baseman, shortstop, outfield, pitcher. But he’s not just a pitcher. He brings so much to the table,” Maehlman said.
Alston got a chance to show his versatility two weeks ago against Riverdale, when he found himself subbing in for Dustin Boggs behind the plate. He had to play catcher after Boggs was out with an illness.
Maehlman didn’t mince words when describing how Alston filled in.
“In that game, we had to start a freshman catcher at first and it really wasn’t working out to well,” Maehlman said. “That’s when we put Darian behind the plate. A lot of coaches have said Dustin is the best catcher in the region. But when we put Darian back there, he looked just like Dustin.”
If forced to choose, Alston said he does believe that middle infielder is his most natural position. It’s the position — other than pitcher — that schools like Miles College, Paine College, Savannah State and Grambling want to see himplay at the next level.
But he doesn’t have to choose -- at least not at the high school level. And that suits him just fine.
“I’m just a baseball player,” he said. “This year I’ve had to catch at times. Wherever my coach needs me I’ll play.”
Listen to him talk and it won’t take long to realize, though, that he does have a passion for pitching. He said his fastball, clocked at 86 miles per hour at Morehouse during the offseason, is okay for where he is, but not for where he wants to go.
“It stands out pretty good in high school,” he said. “But I’m not just trying to stop there.”
So what did he do during the offseason to bolster his arm? That’s right. He worked on his legs.
While other dual sport athletes were in the throes of their football and basketball seasons, Alston said he and several other baseball specialists were in the weight room three days a week building leg strength.
“That leg strength gives you that extra push off the mound,” he explained. “That’s good for an extra two to three miles per hour on your fastball.”
And, in several of Jonesboro’s key wins in a top heavy Region 4-AAAA where literally every game counts as the Cardinals pursue a state title, Alston’s work has visibly paid off.
Alston pitched a complete game two-hitter with 14 strikeouts in the Cardinals’ 17-1 win over North Clayton on March 8 — their first of the season. He followed it up two games later, retiring eight batters in an 8-6 win over Upson-Lee. He also went 2-for-4 at the plate with two RBIs.
But his most dominant performance came Friday against Eagle’s Landing when he tossed a no-hitter through five innings, and recorded five strikeouts in a 14-0 win against the Golden Eagles.
The fastball isn’t all there is to the story, though. Alston said he’s learned how to become a more complete pitcher over the years.
“When I was coming up during my freshman through junior years, I wanted to strike everyone out and mow everyone down,” he said. “But I’ve learned you can’t do it by yourself. I’m learning to pitch to get outs, not just strikeouts.”
Alston said he’s hoping that the game against the Golden Eagles — the Cardinals second straight victory — was the turning point toward some consistency as Jonesboro approaches the second half of the season.
“Every time we’ve won a big game, we’ve turned around and dropped the next one,” he said. “We just beat Eagle’s Landing. Beating Locust Grove (today) can get us over the hump and into the next half of the season.”
That next half is important for Alston. Not because it gets him closer to college. Nor is it because it gives him chances to necessarily shine in big games.
He says it’s not about just him.
When asked what his biggest personal goal was, he only referred to his team.
“I want to make it to the state playoffs,” he said. “That’s my main goal. If I get my team to the state playoffs I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve.”