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GWINNETT GRADS: Collins Hill's Lenahan fueling MSU's strong start

In a season of positives for the Mississippi State softball program, a few more came last weekend.

The Bulldogs racked up 39 runs in four victories over Jacksonville State, the College of Charleston and Charleston Southern, improving the third-best start in school history to 20-6. They're winners of 14 of their last 16, and at the center of the offensive success is Collins Hill grad Sam Lenahan.

The junior was 8-for-12 (.667) hitting during the four recent wins and was the only Southeastern Conference player last week to total at least eight hits and eight RBIs.

"I have been pretty successful the last few weeks," Lenahan said. "It feels really good. I've got a lot of confidence but I'm always trying to stay focused on the process and good things will happen. ... Our offense just really came alive this past weekend on spring break. Everyone really killed it."

The recent surge continues the best season of Lenahan's college career, returning her to a pace that began with an All-SEC Freshman season two years ago. She hit .285 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs, in addition to throwing out a league-high 21 runners attempting to steal from her catcher position.

Her power numbers tailed off as a sophomore, but she filled a void for her team by stepping up at third base. She started just 11 games last season at her life-long, natural catcher position, but made 44 starts at third base, a position she had never played.

Her time has been split more evenly between the two positions this season.

"It's been nice to give my knees a rest," Lenahan said. "Since we got (former Alexander star Logan Foulks) as a transfer (from North Carolina), we've been switching with each other (between catcher and third base). It's nice because we both get to rest our knees after catching and we both bring different strengths."

Offensively, her power returned this year, better than ever. In fact, her numbers are better all across the board.

Lenahan already has six homers (two in 2012), 26 RBIs (28), 10 doubles (7), 17 extra-base hits (9) and an .851 slugging percentagee (.399). She has 24 walks, ranking 15th nationally in walks per game, up from 21 all of last season and 17th in on-base percentage (.560).

She also ranks among the top 30 nationally in slugging percentage and doubles per game, hitting frequently out of the No. 4 spot in the order. She has reached base safely in 19 straight games, four off the school record.

"I've been seeing a lot of pitches, working the count and getting deep in counts," said Lenahan, whose teammate and Norcross grad Heidi Shape, the team's second baseman, is hitting .325 out of the No. 2 hole in the lineup.

Earning All-SEC honors is an individual goal for this season, but her team goals are the biggest focus, particularly after last year's painful ending. The Bulldogs made an NCAA Regional, but went 0-2 for a quick exit.

They aim for a much better postseason run later this spring.

"We're definitely looking to go to a Super Regional and beyond," Lenahan said. "Last year we went to the regional and it didn't go like we planned, so we want to do better this year. We're staying focused on the process, one game at a time, one pitch at a time."

At the halfway point of the season, that plan is right on course, for MSU and for Lenahan.

"I really just want this year to be the best year I've had yet," the math major said. "And I want that to happen again next year (as a senior). I definitely would like to make All-SEC. That would be awesome. I made All-SEC Freshman so it would be cool to get back and make the All-SEC team."

SOFTBALL

Dickie named week's top pitcher

North Georgia's Melissa Dickie, a Buford grad, was selected as the Peach Belt Conference player of the week on Monday.

The sophomore allowed just one earned run in her 20 innings last week, good for a 0.35 ERA and a 3-0 record. She struck out 10 batters, moving into the league's season top 10 in ERA (1.78) and opponent batting average (.192).

BASKETBALL

Weathers up for prestigious Arthur Ashe honor

Mill Creek grad Monique Weathers, who recently finished her Benedict College career, is one of 20 national finalists (10 male, 10 female) for the prestigious Arthur Ashe Junior Sports Scholar Award, presented by Diverse: Issues In Higher Education Magazine and the NCAA.

The finalists were chosen from more than 500 minority student-athlete candidates, who were nominated by their colleges. They were selected for excellence in athletics, academics and community activism.

Past winners of the award include 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

Williams wraps up stellar career

Ninth-ranked Limestone College's season ended with a loss to No. 1 Clayton State in this week's NCAA Southeast Regional Championship Game, but Mill Creek grad Tia Williams played her best down the stretch and earned all-tournament honors.

Williams had a game-high 25 points and averaged 22.3 in Limestone's tourney games. In a semifinal win over Pfeiffer, she had 15 points, seven steals, six rebounds and four assists. She scored a career-high 27, including 21 in the second half, in her team's 64-59 first-round win over Barton.

Limestone, which also features Mill Creek grad Alicia Brookins, set a school record with 27 wins this season.

Norcross' Jones named All-SAC

Norcross grad Denzail Jones, a senior at Anderson University (S.C.), was selected to the All-South Atlantic Conference second team this season.

The 5-foot-9 guard averaged a team-high 18.6 points, which ranked third in the league.

Nimley shines in tourney loss

Charleston Southern's season ended Wednesday night with an NIT-opening loss at top-seeded Southern Miss, but Collins Hill grad Saah Nimley played well in the 78-71 loss.

The sophomore guard had a game-high 24 points --21 in the second half --and made 7 of 14 3-pointers to fuel a comeback bid. CSU finished the season with a 19-13 record and Southern Miss improved to 26-9.

BASEBALL

Teschner gets league honor

South Gwinnett grad Brett Teschner was named the Peach Belt Conference player of the week on Monday after leading Columbus State with one of the best weekends in recent memory of any Cougar.

The senior was 10-for-14 (.714) in three games against 22nd-ranked Montevallo. He went 2-for-4 with a double in the series opener, then was 3-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs in Game 1 of last Saturday's doubleheader. He followed that up by going 5-for-5 in the nightcap, becoming the 11th player in Peach Belt history to home three times in the same game.

The last CSU player to homer three times in a game also was a South grad --Larry Pittmon back in 2004. Pittmon did it in the NCAA Division II College World Series.

Teschner kept rolling this week and extended his current hitting streak to 11 games.

Erwin earns first career win

Clemson freshman and Duluth grad Zack Erwin earned his first career victory last weekend as the Tigers defeated 12th-ranked Virginia 7-6 in an ACC contest.

Erwin pitched five strong innings of relief, allowing just one hit, one run and one walk to go with his three strikeouts. The 6-foot-4 left-hander, one of Clemson's main middle relievers, has a minuscule 0.82 ERA in eight relief appearances with nine strikeouts and three walks in his 11 innings.

LACROSSE

Allen posts hat trick

Mill Creek grad Noelle Allen, a freshman at Newberry College (S.C.), had three goals last week in her team's narrow, 9-8 loss to Catawba College. She now has 14 goals, ranking third on the team, this season.

Teammate and fellow freshman Carly Marksberry, a Collins Hill grad, has 15 goals (second on the team) and 12 assists (first).

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.