His college career had just ended perfectly, with a national championship, but Russ Pullen wanted one more thing. He wanted to make his Toccoa Falls College graduation.
After the post-game celebration and photos last Friday, the Providence Christian grad traveled all night with his family back to Georgia. He arrived in Toccoa at 10 a.m. last Saturday, beating the start of graduation by 30 minutes.
"I really wanted to be there," Pullen said of the trip, which followed a win over four-time defending champion Southeastern in the National Christian College Athletic Association championship. "I knew I had family coming in and I wanted to see them. It just seemed like the right thing to do."
Diploma in hand, he had just completed a utopian finish to college.
Pullen was the MVP of the NCCAA National Tournament, recording two wins and a save in the three-day event. He allowed 11 hits and four earned runs in 171/3 innings.
The season leading up to nationals went just as well. The senior was 11-3 with a save in 104 innings, earning NCCAA National Pitcher of the Year and first-team All-American honors. He also was pitcher of the year in the tough South Region, which also includes powerhouse Southeastern.
During the course of the season, he defeated three NAIA teams and one NCAA Division III team. One of his wins was a one-hitter against NAIA's University of Virginia-Wise.
But none of the regular-season thrills matched the excitement of nationals. In a best two of three series with Southeastern, Pullen earned the victory in Game 1. He went 3-for-3 in Game 2, a Toccoa Falls loss.
In the finale, Pullen scored the go-ahead run in the sixth of a game that was deadlocked 3-3. He then entered the game in the bottom of the sixth, saving the 5-3 clinching victory.
"I couldn't think of a better way to finish up my college career, to win the national championship and to beat the No. 1 team twice in one day to do it," Pullen said. "We definitely earned it. Nobody gave it to us."
Pullen is relaxing on a vacation this week to Gulf Shores, Ala., but isn't sure about his next step. A secondary education major - he only pitched weekends in February and March while he was a student teacher at Stephens County High - he eventually wants to go into teaching and coaching.
But he isn't giving up baseball yet. He plans to go through a few tryouts and showcases, hoping to land a shot somewhere in pro baseball, possibly in an independent league.
"I'd love to keep playing," Pullen said.
"I'll have to see what happens."
Heffley named SoCon's top rookie
Western Carolina's Ross Heffley, a Brookwood grad, was named Southern Conference freshman of the year in voting by both the league's coaches and media.
Heffley was eighth in the conference with a .392 batting average and was ninth with an on-base percentage of .469. He hit third in the Catamounts' lineup for 40 of 54 regular-season games.
Plagman earns All-ACC nod
Wesleyan grad Tony Plagman, Georgia Tech's first baseman, was named second-team All-ACC this week. Plagman hit .347 this season with 15 home runs and a team-high 63 RBIs.
Snell picks up honors
Georgia College and State University shortstop Chandler Snell picked up two honors this week.
The South Gwinnett grad was the school's athlete of the week and also made the NCAA Southeast Regional All-Tournament Team after hitting .750 in the tourney (6-for-8 in two games). He also had four RBIs.
French gets big win
Collins Hill grad Justice French, a sophomore at Mercer, pitched seven strong innings last week in a victory over Belmont that clinched his team an Atlantic Sun Tournament bid. The right-hander gave up just one earned run and scattered five hits.
Coan surging late for Jackets
Georgia Tech is on a strong postseason run going into today's NCAA Super Regional against Washington, and Greater Atlanta Christian grad Jessica Coan is one of the big reasons.
Coan has given up just one run in her last 24 innings - a 0.29 ERA - with 28 strikeouts during that span. She has four victories in that stretch with three coming in postseason play.
She was 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA at the NCAA Atlanta Regional, including a career-best 11 strikeout effort in the opener against Boston University.
Taylor gets regional award
Peachtree Ridge grad Rhea Taylor, a sophomore at Missouri, was named to the Louisville Slugger/NFCA Division I All-Midwest Region team. Taylor's sixth-inning, solo homer last weekend gave Missouri its 1-0, clinching win over DePaul in the NCAA Regional.
TRACK AND FIELD
Berkmar tracksters head to regionals
Berkmar grads Girma Mecheso, Juliana Smith and Hasheem Halim all will participate in the upcoming NCAA regionals.
Mecheso, a freshman at Auburn, placed second in the 10,000-meter run (30 minutes, 13 seconds) and third in the 5,000 (14:00) at the SEC Championships. He has qualified for the NCAA Mideast Regional in the 5,000, but already has qualified for the NCAA National Championships in the 10,000.
Smith, a sophomore at Ole Miss, placed fourth in the SEC meet in the hammer throw with a toss of 185 feet, 9 inches. She has broken the school record three times this season in the hammer throw, while qualifying for NCAA regionals in that event and the shot put.
Halim, a freshman at Virginia Tech, was seventh in the triple jump at the ACC Championships with a leap of 49-73/4.
The NCAA regional qualifier has a personal-best of 50-10, which came at the Georgia Tech Invitational.
Droll swims lifetime best
Peachtree Ridge grad Bryan Droll placed second in the C Final at last week's Charlotte UltraSwim, swimming a career-best time of 23.67 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle against a strong field.
Droll, a walk-on swimmer at Davidson, finished 2.3 seconds behind France's Fred Bousquet, the race's world record holder. Droll didn't begin competitive swimming until September 2007.
Richmann gets prestigious award
Central Gwinnett grad Elizabeth Richmann received the prestigious James Edward Oglethorpe Award, commonly called the Oglethorpe Cup, at the school's graduation ceremony.
The honor goes to one male and one female in the graduating class who, in the opinion of the faculty, have excelled in scholarship and service. She also got the Ron Carlisle Prize, which recognizes the most exceptional senior majoring in math or computer science.
Richmann also finished her Oglethorpe basketball career with more than 1,000 points and 600 rebounds.
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 email@example.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.