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Brookwood grad shining at Valdosta St.

Brookwood grad Clayton Cain awaits a throw back to first during a Valdosta State baseball game earlier this season.

Brookwood grad Clayton Cain awaits a throw back to first during a Valdosta State baseball game earlier this season.

His at-bats dwindling at Georgia, Clayton Cain decided in the spring of 2008 to call it a career in college baseball.

The Brookwood grad figured to be a contributor that spring, though his plate appearances would be scarce behind slugging first baseman Rich Poythress. Not ready to sit on the bench, he gave up the sport and was ready to be a regular student, just like the kids he went to class with every day in Athens.

"I had a long talk with Coach (David) Perno and he tried to talk me into transferring," said Cain, the Daily Post's high school player of the year in 2005. "But I was Georgia or nothing."

His mind changed as the college baseball season continued. He watched his Bulldog teammates reach the 2008 College World Series. He watched his roommates playing baseball and having fun.

Then his love of the sport kicked back in.

"I got that itch again," Cain said. "I told myself I needed to be playing somewhere. I told Coach (Jason) Eller and Coach Perno and they were great finding me a place to play."

That place was Valdosta State.

The Blazers took Perno's word that Cain was a player. And Cain took the leap of faith into a baseball program he knew nothing about. He didn't know any of his new teammates.

But baseball in South Georgia turned out to be fun again.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder hit .367 last spring as a VSU junior with 12 home runs and 57 RBIs. And he is even better this season for the 29-11 Blazers.

Cain is second on the team in batting average (.414), homers (12), RBIs (44), slugging percentage (.737) and on-base percentage (.512). Far removed from the reserve role he had at Georgia, he rotates between the third and fourth spots in the Blazers' lineup.

"It's definitely been a blessing coming down here," said Cain, who is engaged to former Parkview basketball standout Sara Kate Greene. "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know one person on the team. I didn't know the coaches. I just kind of packed my bags and came down here. The coaches didn't know me and they took Coach Perno's word, so I felt like I had a lot to prove."

BASEBALL

Sarisky with Lexington Legends

Duluth grad Daniel Sarisky will play most of his minor league baseball in the South this season, earning a roster spot with the Class A Lexington Legends of the South Atlantic League.

The 21-year-old former Oglethorpe standout had a solid rookie season in 2009, splitting time as a relief pitcher between Greeneville of the Appalachian League and Tri-City of the New York-Pennsylvania League. He had a combined record of 2-1 with a 3.82 ERA and 41 strikeouts (to just 13 walks) in 351/3 innings.

Freeman named A-Sun's best

Kennesaw State freshman Ronnie Freeman, a Brookwood grad, was named the Atlantic Sun Conference player of the week on Monday after leading the Owls to a 3-1 record the previous week, including a win over Georgia Tech.

Freeman was 7-for-15 the previous week with eight RBIs, going 6-for-12 and homering in each game of a series with Belmont. He also had a hit and scored the game's first run in a 7-4 upset of second-ranked Georgia Tech.

The catcher leads Kennesaw State in batting average (.327), RBIs (26) and home runs (six).

Heffley powers win over Vols

Brookwood grad Ross Heffley was 2-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs Wednesday night as Western Carolina picked up a nice win over an SEC foe, 14-9 over Tennessee. It was the Catamounts' second win over Tennessee in the last 11 matchups.

Providence pair have Birmingham Southern rolling

Birmingham Southern sophomores Jesse Meier and Jon Walker, former teammates at Providence Christian, have played key roles for a team that is 25-4 on the season.

Meier improved his pitching record to 5-1 Tuesday night, going six innings in a 13-6 win over Berry College. It was the Panthers' ninth straight win.

Walker is one of the team's top hitters, batting .343 with two homers and 19 RBIs.

SOFTBALL

Taylor named finalist for national award

Peachtree Ridge grad Rhea Taylor, a junior at Missouri, was annouced this week as one of 25 finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award, considered the most prestigious award in college softball.

Taylor is hitting .425 with two home runs, 14 RBIs and 26 runs scored this season. She also has 18 stolen bases in 19 attempts, helping her break the Missouri record for career stolen bases earlier this season.

Razey's homer gives UGA win over Tech

Georgia sophomore Ashley Razey blasted a three-run home run in the seventh inning Wednesday night, leading the 12th-ranked Bulldogs to a 5-4 win over No. 6 Georgia Tech. It was the Buford grad's team-leading 10th homer of the season. She also drove in her team's second run on a sacrifice fly.

Dacula's Murray gets conference honor

Dacula grad Shannon Murray, a freshman at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., was named the Midwest Conference pitcher of the week on Tuesday.

Murray earned the award after pitching a perfect game vs. Alverno College on April 1. She struck out five batters with no walks and allowed just four balls to be hit out of the infield in her school's second-ever no-hitter. She also was 2-for-3 hitting in the win with a double and two RBIs.

Murray is 5-1 with a 2.31 ERA this season with 23 strikeouts and seven walks. She also is hitting .486 with five doubles and nine RBIs.

North Georgia wraps up conference title

With contributions from six Gwinnett grads, the North Georgia softball team clinched the Peach Belt Conference title Tuesday with a sweep of Columbus State.

Central Gwinnett grad Courtney McGuire homered in Game 1 as North Georgia, the No. 1 team nationally in Division II, improved to 37-0 overall. McGuire, a senior, has five homers and 28 RBIs this season.

Peachtree Ridge grad Natasha Willemse, a junior, has two homers and 11 RBIs, while freshman Callie Fernandez of Peachtree Ridge (.455 batting average), senior Jessica Skeels of Central Gwinnett and freshman Whitney Holman of Buford also have chipped in as position players.

Freshman pitcher Krysten Connelly of Peachtree Ridge is 5-0 with a 1.85 ERA.

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.