Sometimes when a team is the best on paper, they’re the best on the field too.
Such is the case with the Conyers Post 77 baseball team, a squad that folks around state American Legion baseball have brandished with superlatives before, during and now after the season.
Even local rival, no-nonsense Rockdale Post 77 coach Jack Murphy, made no bones about calling them the best Legion team he’d ever seen. Well, he was right – at least this season.
Conyers clinched Georgia’s 2009 American Legion crown – 20 years after the city’s only other American Legion championship – going 4-0 against the state’s top teams at the championship tournament at Hunter Park in Douglasville.
The tourney, which took place from July 22-26, gave the second-seeded squad a chance to show the rest of the state what all the talk and regular season results were about. It was about delivering a championship, plain and simple.
"It is an honor to represent American Legion Post 77 and the Conyers community," Coach Eddie Bagwell said. "It’s a very good experience for these young men. They are going to be treated well, honored highly, and these guys are getting to go out on a high."
Bagwell’s group outscored the opposition 39-15 during the course of their four-game unbeaten run, and all of those wins except one were by a five-run margin or more.
In that less-than-five-run win, Conyers came back to beat third-seeded Canton 6-4 after being down by two runs in the eighth inning of their second game. And, in the championship game against host and fourth-seeded Douglasvile (who they’d beaten one day earlier, 8-3), Conyers ended the game on its second two-run homer of the eighth inning to invoke the 10-run rule for a 13-3 finish in the championship game.
After both teams scored a run apiece in the first, Brandon Crumbley’s home run gave Conyers a 4-1 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish. But Douglasville fought back to make it 4-3 after six innings, when the game was stopped briefly due to rain.
The storm seemingly foretold of the coming offensive deluge, and as things got back underway, right fielder Ross Roberts had a bases-clearing triple. Highly-touted MLB prospect and Heritage senior Tyler Austin knocked in runners of his own to help extend the Conyers lead to 9-3 after seven innings. Austin followed Nick Woodward’s two-run homer with one of his own in the eighth, ending the game with an exclamatory round-tripper.
"Tyler (Austin) is such a threat and he just set up guys like Cameron Griffin (two homers in the tourney) and Chunk Smith." Bagwell said. "Also, Nick Woodward came on phenomenally in the tournament. He was 8-for-14 with seven RBI as a nine-hole hitter."
Brandon Thomas, who allowed one run in the six innings he pitched in the finale, was the fourth Conyers starter to get a victory in the tournament. Anthony Bazzani, Kelvan Diaz and Beau Thomas were the other winning starters.
"We got unbelievable starts from our guys," Bagwell said. "Beau Thomas went late in our first game, so we didn’t have to go into our bullpen too much. Bazzani shut down the best hitting team of the tourney in Canton, and Diaz pitched a great game against the best overall team in Douglasville. And Brandon Thomas’ nickname is bulldog for a reason – he pitched a gem in the championship game."
For the entire tournament, the Conyers team practiced what Bagwell preached.
In the end they got a championship out of it – and even put their coach at ease.
"When we swing the bats early, pitch and play good defense, the anxiety shifts to them and that’s what we always wanted to do," Bagwell said. "Shifting that anxiety onto them is key. For one thing, I’m an old fat man and don’t need any of that on me."