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O'Leary matches county HR record

NORCROSS -- The outcome was never in doubt, but that didn't mean that Wesleyan's opening-round doubleheader in the Class A state tournament was devoid of suspense.

Quite the contrary.

Kevin O'Leary finished the regular season with 19 home runs -- one off Jeff Francoeur's Gwinnett County record he set as a junior for Parkview in 2001.

Would O'Leary tie or break the record on Friday against Gordon Lee?

"I was feeling the pressure," the Wesleyan senior admitted afterwards.

O'Leary didn't break the record, but he did tie it as the defending Class A champs crushed visiting Gordon Lee in a resounding sweep, winning 14-3 and 17-1 in a pair of shortened games.

The opener was ended by the mercy rule in the sixth inning on O'Leary's three-run homer.

It is just 341 feet to center field at Wesleyan's Donn Gaebelein Field. But the blasted sailed well over the fence, the ball hitting off a school building and coming to rest in bushes before it was retrieved for O'Leary.

There would be no record-breaking homer in the second game, which was shortened to just three innings by the lopsided score. But that hardly mattered.

"It's great to share a record with someone like Jeff Francoeur," O'Leary said. "I thought I'd have a good season, but I didn't think I could ever hit this many homers."

O'Leary will have the opportunity to hit more and if he does it will be in situations with more on the line.

Next up for No. 2-ranked Wesleyan (20-7) is No. 1 Landmark Christian (27-1) at home in the second round next week. That was the championship matchup a year ago, with Wesleyan sweeping.

Wesleyan graduated a number of players who were key contributors to that title team as well as the Class AA winner in 2008. But the Wolves have won 13 games in a row and are 18-1 since a 2-6 start.

O'Leary, a shortstop and pitcher who has signed with Furman, is a big reason for the Wolves' success.

"We've had a lot of good hitters, but he's right up with the best," coach Mike Shaheen said. "He's got a live bat and he has good discipline at the plate."

O'Leary hit 12 homers as a junior and bettered Connor Winn's 2008 school record of 15 a couple of weeks ago. That also put Francoeur's mark in sight.

The state record for homers in a season is still a ways off. Micah Owings of Gainesville hit 25 homers in 2002 and Brodie Pullen of Calhoun matched that in 2007.

O'Leary, hitting over .500 on the season, was 3-for-8 in the doubleheader, with five RBIs and a pair of doubles to go with his 20th home run. But he was far from the Wolves' only hot hitter.

Conor Welton and Adam Workman were both 4-for-5 with home run in the doubleheader, and Daniel Cardwell was 5-for-6 with a double.

Strother White pitched all six innings in the opener, running his record to 9-1. He struck out six and walked none, Gordon Lee's runs coming on back-to-back homers by Alan Tahler and Hunter Caldwell in the fourth inning.

O'Leary worked the first two innings in the second game and Devin Stanton struck out two in a perfect third and final frame. The Trojans' run came on a homer by Bryce Bailey off O'Leary in the second inning.

Wesleyan scored seven runs in the first inning of the second game, with Welton and Alex Thykeson hitting back-to-back homers as the second and third batters. Then the Wolves scored six in the second inning before Shaheen cleared his bench.

O'Leary didn't get an extra chance to break the record. But he'll have several more chances against Landmark Christian, when his at-bats will be much more important.

Despite his power outburst, O'Leary bats in the leadoff spot for the Wolves.

Shaheen's explanation is simple. "I always want my best hitter to get the most at-bats," he said. "Batting first, you get about 15 extra at-bats a year."

O'Leary has obviously taken advantage of them.