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Parkview grad Shaft among SoCon's best ever

A small, elite group of Parkview players had a higher high school batting average than Barrett Shaft.

Two of those guys are in the major leagues; Jeff Keppinger of the Cincinnati Reds and Jeff Francoeur of the Atlanta Braves.

Shaft hit .430 as a Parkview junior, then .487 as a senior in 2004. While the exploits of Keppinger and Francoeur are well known, Shaft has quietly become one of the Southern Conference's top career hitters at Western Carolina.

Already the Catamounts' all-time hits leader, Shaft recently moved into third base on the SoCon career hits list with 327. He relegated another Gwinnett grad, former Georgia Southern and South Gwinnett standout Scott Henley, to fourth place.

"It really hasn't sunk in yet because I'm still playing and we're still trying to move up and get a good seed (for the conference tournament)," Shaft said of the magnitude of his total career hits. "It's still there and it's exciting, but you don't want to split your priorities."

However, Shaft is using his spot in the record books as a little extra motivation. He needs to reach 355 career hits for second place and 361 for first, impossible to reach marks unless Western Carolina makes a run in the NCAA Tournament.

First, the Catamounts need to reach NCAAs, which they reached last season with an at-large berth. This year they likely will have to win the SoCon tourney to get in since their record is just 27-24. But they entered Friday on a roll, having won eight straight, including a 5-2 win over Tennessee.

"We started off kind of slow and that kind of pushed us out of doing what we did last year and getting an at-large bid," Shaft said. "Now we have to win the conference tournament and I think we can. We're playing really well right now."

Shaft is a major part of the success, leading the team with a .376 batting average to go with five home runs and 43 RBIs. He's been a consistent hitter throughout his college career, batting .341 as a freshman, .352 as a sophomore and .376 last season.

He hopes the track record of hitting success leads to an opportunity in pro baseball, either as a late-round draft pick or as a free agent. He has no expectations of being a high-round pick, since most scouts doubt a 5-foot-9, 185-pounder.

If that chance doesn't pan out, Shaft plans to pursue an internship at the Accelerated Sports Institute in Asheville, N.C. The internship will complete his degree in sports management.

BASEBALL

Locals lead Young Harris baseball

Collins Hill grad Daniel Warzon, Buford grad Mark Swanson and Parkview grad Stephen McCray helped the Young Harris College baseball team to the Region XVII title last weekend.

Warzon hit a three-run, walk-off home run in a 15-12 championship game victory over South Georgia. It was the second homer of the game for Warzon, who was named the tournament MVP. He is hitting .301 with three homers and 37 RBIs on the season.

Swanson, who pitched his team to a big victory earlier in the tourney, made the all-tournament team. The right-handed pitcher is 11-0 this season with a 3.18 ERA.

McCray had a key game-tying hit in the ninth inning of the championship game. The right-hander is 10-2 with a 3.31 ERA as a pitcher and is hitting .298 with three homers and 30 RBIs.

SOFTBALL

Taylor named Big 12's top rookie

Missouri's Rhea Taylor, a Peachtree Ridge grad, was named the Big 12 Conference Freshman of the Year, in addition to making first-team all-conference. The speedy outfielder also was named to the All-Midwest Region's first team on Thursday.

Taylor ranks second in the nation in stolen bases - behind Dacula grad and Alabama star Brittany Rogers - with 0.90 per game. Her 53 steals set a school and Big 12 record.

She also ranks eighth nationally in runs per game (1.02) and leads the Big 12 with a .408 batting average. She also has 20 RBIs.

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 will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.