Columbus State's baseball team started the South Atlantic Regional in miserable fashion, losing the opener and creating the most difficult road to the title.
But as tough as the journey was, it wasn't impossible. The Cougars, loaded with Gwinnett players, proved that last weekend.
They won their next five games in the double-elimination tournament, including a
4-1 win over Mt. Olive in the finals, to earn a spot in this weekend's NCAA Division II World Series.
Parkview grad Kurt McKee was given the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. He was joined on the all-tournament team by fellow Parkview grads Billy Howard and Jarrett Coker, along with Shiloh grad Jonnie Geiger.
"The seniors got together after Thursday's loss," McKee said. "Four of us were starters in 2004 when we went to the World Series and we didn't want our season to end. We just started playing loose baseball again like we did in the beginning of the season. And our pitching this weekend was the best I've ever seen."
One of those pitchers was Coker, a sophomore who had a tournament-high 12 strikeouts in a complete game, four-hit shutout vs. unbeaten Mt. Olive in the game preceding the championship. Columbus State (48-18) needed to win that one to force a decisive title game. Coker retired 14 of the final 16 batters he faced.
McKee had three RBIs in that 5-0 win, and added another key two-out, RBI single in the final game.
Coker leads the team with 10 wins and has a 3.14 ERA with 88 strikeouts and 25 walks in 971⁄3 innings. McKee is hitting .338 with three home runs, 28 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.
Fellow seniors Howard and David Brown also are having big seasons. Howard leads the team with a .357 batting average along with four homers and 44 RBIs while Brown is batting .330 with five homers and 37 RBIs.
Geiger has a .289 batting average with 19 RBIs and a team-best 31 stolen bases.
McCray, Swanson help Young Harris to World Series
Parkview grad Stephen McCray and Buford grad Mark Swanson helped Young Harris College to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series, which begins today in Grand Junction, Colo.
The two freshmen started Games 2 and 3 of the Lions' best-of-three series vs. Chattanooga State Junior College in the NJCAA East Central Championship. McCray pitched 101⁄3 innings in a Game 2 that was tied 1-1 going into the 11th inning before Young Harris suffered a loss. Swanson started Game 3, which Young Harris won 5-4.
McCray hit .389 with five homers and a region-best 48 RBIs as Young Harris won the Region XVII Tournament. He was the region tourney MVP after hitting .294 with a homer and four RBIs along with a complete-game shutout as a pitcher vs. Gordon College. He was 8-1 with a 2.36 ERA during the regular season.
Shaw, Flanigan named All-Region
Gordon College pitcher Scott Shaw, a Grayson grad, was named first-team All-Region XVII and All-Tournament this season. South Gwinnett grad Rob Flanigan, who plays at Truett-McConnell, also was a first-team all-region selection.
Shaw, an Augusta State signee, went 11-0 this season with a 1.75 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 87 innings.
Flanigan hit .380 this season and led TMC in home runs (10) and RBIs (42). His 10 homers also led the region.
Mengel completes record-breaking career
Shiloh grad Hunter Mengel recently finished a record-breaking golf career at Newberry College, earning All-South Atlantic Conference first-team honors for the second straight season. He is the first golfer in school history to make the All-SAC first team.
Mengel also holds school records for career stroke average, single-season stroke average (75.0), lowest 18-hole score (70) and lowest 36-hole score (143). He also became the first Newberry golfer to win a tournament during the 2005 season.
He was Newberry's team captain and MVP his final two seasons.
Urbanski named first-team All-American
Parkview grad Taylor Urbanski led Oglethorpe to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Division III National Championships by placing fifth individually and earning first-team All-American honors.
Urbanski shot 300 in the four-day tournament with rounds of 75, 73, 76 and 76. The honor comes after a regular season that saw the junior earn All-Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference first-team honors for the third straight season. He was second individually at the SCAC Tournament this season and also received the Georgia Cup Player of the Year award in a competition featuring other Georgia colleges.
Off the course, Urbanski was named to the Cleveland Golf Academic All-American team and was on the All-SCAC Academic Honor Roll.
King honored by GJCAA
Buford grad Christy King received the first region honor for the young Truett-McConnell fastpitch softball program, earning second-team all-region honors from the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association.
King, a two-year team captain with a 4.0 GPA, hit .367 this season with five home runs, 43 RBIs, 26 stolen bases, 24 runs and 15 doubles. A catcher at Buford, she started at shortstop for the Bears.
She has signed with Piedmont College, where she plans to play the next two seasons.
Bender, Hackett shine at Berry
Duluth grad Emily Bender and North Gwinnett grad Shannon Hackett, both soccer players at Berry College, had standout seasons.
Both were named first team All-Southern States Athletic Conference, first team All-Region XIII and NAIA honorable mention All-American. Bender, a junior, was named team MVP and team captain again for next season. Hackett, a freshman, was named the team's newcomer of the year.
Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or via fax to 770-339-8081.