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GWINNETT GRADS: UGA's Walsh returning to form as pitcher

John Kelley/UGA Sports Communications Jared Walsh throws the ball into the infield against Alabama at Foley Field on March 24.

John Kelley/UGA Sports Communications Jared Walsh throws the ball into the infield against Alabama at Foley Field on March 24.

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John Kelley/UGA Sports Communications Georgia's Jared Walsh swings in a game against Alabama this season.

Like his baseball team, Jared Walsh is a work in progress.

With each game, the Peachtree Ridge grad gains confidence and comfort as he pushes closer to his old pitching self after Tommy John surgery. He hopes his Georgia Bulldogs, up and down so far this season, will resume their typical winning ways soon, too.

"It's been rough this season," Walsh said of UGA's season. "We're definitely better than the way we're playing. I don't think our win-loss record reflects how talented we are."

While the Bulldogs' season isn't going as planned --they are 11-19 overall and 1-8 in the Southeastern Conference entering a weekend series with Missouri --Walsh can at least take solace in his personal improvements.

The sophomore's hitting is much better than last year, when he hit just .176 in his debut college season. He currently has a .309 batting average, one of only four Bulldogs hitting over .300, with two home runs and 12 RBIs.

Walsh also has put lots of effort into his pitching, bouncing back from a hiatus on the mound after his senior season at Peachtree Ridge. He underwent Tommy John surgery just before high school graduation, then took five months off before he could swing a bat. He didn't pitch again until last summer with the Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats of the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

"In high school, I used to throw six, seven innings every start," the 6-foot, 215-pound left-hander said. "Coming back, you throw one inning and you're gassed. ... I'm still coming back even now. I'm still working things out mechanically. I wouldn't say I'm completely comfortable, but I'm working my way back."

Walsh has spent the bulk of the season as UGA's closer, recording three saves in his 12 pitching appearances. He has 19 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 innings, with a 2.55 ERA that is one of the Bulldogs' best. Opponents are hitting just .190 against him.

But his closer days, as of earlier this week, look to be over, at least temporarily.

The Bulldog coaches informed Walsh on Monday that he will be the team's Sunday starter beginning with Sunday's home game against Missouri. The decision will hopefully boost UGA's rotation, along with helping Walsh with his preparation.

"I'll work my way back. I don't think I'll go out this weekend and throw a bunch of innings," Walsh said. "I'll go at my own pace now. They want me to have more time to warm up instead of running in from right field as a closer and trying to gas it by them."

As Walsh tries to stretch out his workload, his team will be attempting to string together some wins.

UGA's issues have stemmed mostly from its hitting, particularly in SEC play. That includes a pair of 10-inning losses --2-1 to Texas A&M and 3-2 to Kentucky.

"I don't want to sound cliche, but with the position we're in, the next game really is the most important," Walsh said. "We definitely know we have the talent. We've seen spurts of it. It's just a matter of putting it together. Once our offense comes around, we'll be fine."

BASEBALL

Lewis earns Peach Belt, region honors

Columbus State senior Ryan Lewis was named the Peach Belt Conference player of the week on Monday and was selected as the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Southeast Region player of the week three days later.

The Brookwood grad hit .526 (10-for-19) the previous week as the Cougars went 4-1. He had one home run, seven RBIs, drew four walks, had a .640 on-base percentage, scored nine runs and stole four bases during the five games.

The highlight last week for Lewis, who leads the conference in runs and is third with a .411 batting average, was a walk-off, two-run double in the bottom of the ninth vs. Flagler.

SOFTBALL

Lawrence named to USA Softball junior team

Greater Atlanta Christian's Sierra Lawrence, a freshman at Michigan, has been named to the USA Softball Junior Women's National Team.

Lawrence is one of 17 players 19-and-under who will represent the U.S. at the Junior Women's World Championship, scheduled for July 1-7 in Brampton, Ontario.

Lawrence has started primarily in left field for Michigan this season, but also has started at second base. She has a .341 batting average with three home runs, 20 RBIs, six doubles and two triples.

Rudnik named

ACC's top player

Georgia Tech junior Alysha Rudnik, a Buford grad, was named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the week on Tuesday.

Rudnik hit .750 (9-for-12) the previous week as the Yellow Jackets went 3-1. She had a home run, three doubles and seven runs in the four games, a mid-week game with Kennesaw State and a three-game weekend series with N.C. State. She hit .800 in the series with N.C. State.

TENNIS

Buchholz wins conference award

North Gwinnett grad Taylor Buchholz was named the USA South Athletic Conference Rookie of the Week on Monday.

The Methodist University (N.C.) freshman went 2-0 at No. 2 singles and 3-0 in doubles play the previous week in victories over Ferrum and Piedmont.

Buchholz is 13-0 at No. 2 singles in his first college season, as well as a combined 12-2 at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles.

TRACK AND FIELD

Davis tops marks, earns league acclaim

Kennesaw State sprinter Cynthia Davis broke a pair of school records last weekend at the Yellow Jacket Invitational at Georgia Tech, earning Atlantic Sun Conference track athlete of the week honors.

The Norcross grad lowered her own school mark in the 200-meter run with a time of 24.04 seconds, the fastest college time of the day. She finished second overall in the race. Davis, a senior, also ran on a first-place 400 relay team that posted a school-best time of 45.80.

"I am so happy to see Cynthia having the successful year that she has had so far," KSU coach Andy Eggerth said. "She has stepped up her game and I am thrilled to see the results reflecting her improved focus."

GOLF

Burger named SEC golfer of the week

Mill Creek's Emilie Burger, a senior at Georgia, was named the Southeastern Conference golfer of the week on Thursday.

Burger won the individual championship at the Bryan National College Championship the previous week with a score of 5-under-par 211, which included playing the last four holes in 4 under. The victory was the second of her senior season as she also won the Mason Rudolph Championship in the fall.

FOOTBALL

Orr honored as role model

Peachtree Ridge grad Conner Orr, a former football player at Western Carolina, was honored recently at the 29th annual Peach of an Athlete Role Model Banquet hosted by the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Orr, one of 12 amateur athletes honored, received the award for holding the same values as Scouting based on character, academic and athletic achievements. Despite a back injury, he played in 18 college games with six starts and finished last season with six catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Orr has maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA while pursuing an accounting degree, earning him Capital One Academic All-District III honors.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.