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Gwinnett grads: Parkview's McCray is top starter on Rocky Top

Parkview grad Stephen McCray throws for the Tennessee Volunteers this season.

Parkview grad Stephen McCray throws for the Tennessee Volunteers this season.

Even for college baseball, the ERA of the Tennessee pitching staff looks rough.

The Volunteers rank 11th of 12 SEC teams with a team ERA of 5.74. Among starting pitchers, the second-best ERA is 5.88.

Then there's Stephen McCray.

The Parkview grad has been an important stopper for a Tennessee team fighting for one of the eight coveted spots in the SEC tournament. His 2.59 ERA, easily the best among Volunteer starters, definitely stands out.

"I'm doing pretty well right now but I'm not doing anything special," the 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior said. "I'm hitting my spots, changing speeds, moving the ball around. I don't have more strikeouts than innings pitched so I've got good defense behind me."

McCray has settled in as Tennessee's Saturday starter, splitting the rotation's two left-handers, and has a 4-3 record in nine starts. He has 39 strikeouts to 17 walks in 552/3 innings.

Some of his best work has come lately. Though he gave up five runs in six innings last Saturday against Mississippi State, he beat Florida and Ole Miss in his previous two starts. Both were gems.

The right-hander gave up one run and seven hits in 61/3 innings against the Gators, striking out seven batters with no walks. He allowed only two runs on four hits in a seven-inning outing against Ole Miss.

His emergence has been a welcome surprise for Tennessee (19-19) and McCray, who entered the season battling for the final weekend pitching spot. Though he started early in the 2009 season, he finished it in the bullpen and was 4-3 with a 5.16 ERA as a junior.

But he found his groove as a starter last summer with the Florence Red Wolves of the Coastal Plains League. He went 5-2 with a 1.92 ERA, striking out 68 and walking 21 in 652/3 innings. He led the league with an opponents' batting average of .169.

McCray has learned over the years to reign in his velocity, opting to pitch in the 88 to 92 mph range for control, rather than fire it in the mid-90s, speeds he's capable of hitting.

"A few years ago I was just throwing the ball hard, sort of overpowering people," McCray said. "I sort of knew where the ball was going and I had some movement. But now I'm able to pitch low in the zone and I've been able to throw a sinker and add a cutter."

McCray was a dual threat before coming to Tennessee, both at Parkview and for two seasons at Young Harris.

The left-handed batter hit .358 with nine home runs and 65 RBIs as a freshman, helping Young Harris to its first National Junior College Athletic Association World Series. He also was 9-2 on the mound with a 2.58 ERA.

He hit .298 with 30 RBIs as a sophomore, but showed why he was recruited by a number of high-level Division I schools as a pitcher, going 10-2 with a 3.31 ERA.

"I've always loved hitting and I love pitching, too," McCray said. "If I had to choose, I think pitching is a bigger thrill. But hitting you get to play every day and I miss that."

His successful season may steer him more to a future on the mound. He hopes to play pro baseball, but he hasn't given the June draft much thought.

He's already been selected twice -- in the 34th round by Tampa Bay in 2006 and in the 50th round by St. Louis in 2007 -- but each time opted to stay in school.

"(Pro baseball's) a goal, it's something I've always wanted to do, I'm just looking to get a chance," McCray said. "But I'm not thinking about the draft. I've worried about it in the past and it's turned around and bit me. ... You put extra pressure on yourself because of it. If you're playing for the draft, you're playing for the wrong reasons."

BASEBALL

Hit-and-run

Chase Burnette of Buford blasted a two-run, walk-off home run last Friday night in Georgia Tech's 8-6 win over Clemson. The Yellow Jackets finished off a series sweep last Sunday with an 11-3 win behind the hitting of Tony Plagman (4-for-5, two RBIs). ... Brookwood grad Clayton Cain hit his 14th and 15th home runs of the season in back-to-back Valdosta State wins last weekend over Lambuth. He also was 2-for-4 with two RBIs on Wednesday in an 8-4 loss to Georgia College and State University.

Former Brookwood standout Chase Hawkins earned his first win at Georgia on Wednesday night, allowing one run and two hits in three innings of a 4-2 win over Winthrop. Parkview grad Steve Esmonde also pitched a scoreless inning of relief. ... Norcross' Richard Pirkle and South Gwinnett's Chandler Snell each went 4-for-6 and scored two runs in last Sunday's GCSU rout of Montevallo. Pirkle also hit his team-leading 12th homer.

Tennessee freshman Nick Blount got the win Wednesday night in an 18-8 win over Western Carolina. The South Gwinnett grad pitched 42/3 innings of scoreless relief and retired 14 of 15 batters, giving up just one hit. He's 2-2 on the season with a team-high 16 appearances, all in relief. Brookwood grad Ross Heffley was 2-for-4 for WCU.

SOFTBALL

Wiggins gets SEC honor

Shiloh grad Megan Wiggins, a junior outfielder at Georgia, was named the Southeastern Conference player of the week on Monday after hitting .500 (8-for-16) with a team-best six RBIs the previous week.

Wiggins had two home runs last week, giving her 27 in her career (fifth all-time at UGA). She hit her 10th of the season last Saturday against Auburn, while teammate Brianna Hesson of North Gwinnett hit her team-leading 12th homer in that victory.

Buford grad Ashley Razey drove in the Bulldogs' only run in the sixth inning -- her third game-winning hit this season -- on Sunday as Georgia beat Auburn 1-0 to complete a weekend sweep.

Hesson had another big game Wednesday as her two-run triple broke a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning of a 6-3 win over rival Georgia Tech.

Hit-and-run

Central Gwinnett's Courtney McGuire made the all-tournament team as North Georgia won the Peach Belt Conference Tournament last Sunday with a 9-5 win over Francis Marion. Top-ranked North Georgia (45-0) is still the only unbeaten softball team in Divisions I, II or III. ... Greater Atlanta Christian grad Jessica Coan struck out a career-high 13 batters in five innings last Sunday in Georgia Tech's 4-0 win over Boston College. The sophomore (13-1) struck out 10 straight batters at one point as she extended her scoreless innings streak to 23.

GOLF

Burger 17th at SECs

Mill Creek grad Emilie Burger helped Georgia to a fourth-place finish at last weekend's SEC Women's Golf Championships in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The freshman shot 69, 76 and 71, tying for 17th overall.

TRACK AND FIELD

Machovec gets SEC award

Siblings and Georgia throwers Israel and Eve Machovec, both Dacula grads, posted victories at last weekend's Bulldog Limited meet in Athens.

Israel, whose performance earned him SEC male field athlete of the week honors, got his first season victory in the discus with a toss of 188 feet, 1 inch, the second-best throw of his career. He had the second-best throw of his outdoor career in the shot put at 58-81/2, but finished fifth in a meet that included some of the world's top throwers. Two-time Olympian Reese Hoffa won the shot put at 69-41/4.

Eve, a sophomore, won the women's discus with a personal-best throw of 158-6. The toss was the fifth-best in UGA history. She also was fifth in the shot put (45-1).

UGA freshman Allyson McGinty, a Collins Hill grad, won her first college race, taking first in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 18 minutes, 10.36 seconds. Brookwood grad Roxanne DeMarco was third in that race in 19:04.97.

Other UGA locals who fared well at the meet included: Shiloh's Tierra Bagby (fourth in 100, 12.99, fifth in long jump, 18-11/2, fifth in triple jump, 37-3), Buford's Summer Nelson (sixth in 1,500, 4:48.09) and North Gwinnett's Nicole DiMercurio (eighth in 1,500, 4:54.72).

Augusta State's Kara Kreutzer, a Providence Christian, had the day's second-best time in the 3,000 steeplechase.

SWIMMING AND DIVING

Three swimmers named all-conference

Three Gwinnett grads were named to the All-Coastal Collegiate Swimming Association's all-conference team, including Davidson junior teammates Bryan Droll and Emily Castle.

Droll, a Peachtree Ridge grad, was all-conference in the 50 and 100 freestyle and Castle, a Grayson grad, was all-league in the 100 butterfly.

Gardner-Webb freshman Elizabeth Charter, a Parkview grad, was all-conference in the 100 free and 100 fly.

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.