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Seminoles key in summer diamond success

CONYERS - After a difficult spring season, it continues to be a great summer for the Salem baseball program.

Five players - rising juniors Cameron Gibson, Jimmy Gerard and Levi Bonilla, rising sophomore Tyler McClendon and recent graduate Brandon Crumbley - are all still playing baseball with their respective teams with the 2009-10 school year around the corner.

Gibson had a standout summer for the Conyers Post 77 American Legion team, which is preparing for next weekend's Southeast Regional tournament in Sumter, S.C., following an undefeated state-title run in Douglasville.

The center fielder, who moved from California before his ninth-grade year, hit .461 with two home runs and a team-high seven RBIs in four state tournament games.

"Cameron, when he came in as a freshman, I wasn't here, but he started immediately," Salem coach Chad Kitchens said. "He made tremendous improvement from his freshman to his sophomore year. I know it was like a 100-point jump (in batting average). And this summer he's just continued to improve. We're just proud, he's really a special individual."

Crumbley is a big piece out of the Post 77 bullpen and provides a good bat on a potent offense.

Gerard, an infielder/right-handed pitcher, is the Legion team's most recent addition and threw a perfect inning of relief against Alpharetta in his only appearance in the state tournament.

While Crumbley is headed to Augusta State, Kitchens said Gibson and Gerard have both excelled against stiffer competition during summer ball, which will help in their high school future.

"We didn't really know how good Jimmy was coming off last year, his freshman season," Kitchens said. "He stepped up from the get-go and earned a starting job and really became one of our most steady and dependable players. Exposing him to this kind of talent level, he's been able to be successful; (that) is also exciting for us because he's going to play a big role for us next year."

Bonilla, a shortstop/pitcher, and McClendon, one of Salem's catchers, joined Team Georgia in the Dixie Youth Pre-Majors World Series in Ozark, Ala. The team, based out of Statham, defeated Duplin County, N.C., before losses to Collierville, Tenn., and Grove Hill, Ala.

"(Bonilla and McClendon) both had a good summer for us," said Kitchens. "Those two guys have a good chance of playing a lot of innings (and) the more you play against good competition, it can help you."

Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at kurt.aschermann@rockdalecitizen.com.