CONYERS - Conyers Post 77 heads into the first round of the American Legion Southeast Regional at 5 p.m. today in Sumter, S.C., with an unsung hero leading the way.
Nick Woodward has had his best stretch of the long legion season, culminating with a .461 average and five RBIs in the state tournament in which Conyers went 4-0. Woodward, a senior at Heritage who started the season at the top of the order, has thrived lately near the bottom.
"We started with him as our leadoff hitter and we stuck with him and stuck with him and it was becoming very obvious that he was struggling in the leadoff spot," Conyers coach Eddie Bagwell said. "We moved him to the nine spot to relieve the pressure. He adjusted a little bit more and we saw him perform extremely well. He stepped up and had a great state tournament."
At shortstop, Woodward is also the anchor of a solid infield defense. In Post 77's first victory over Douglasville, Woodward injured a finger on his throwing hand while fielding a ground ball. He was replaced by pinch-hitter David Lockwood in the seventh inning, but the injury turned out to be minor.
"Nick played his tail off (and) in the third game got a busted finger; you never knew it," Bagwell said. "He didn't complain, but in private he said, 'Hey coach, I'm worried about throwing the ball and I don't want to hurt the team.' You give me a team of that kind of attitude and we're going to be competitive. And he's a great team guy."
Gibson starring on big stage
The rise to stardom of center fielder Cameron Gibson has come at the perfect time for Post 77. Gibson, a junior at Salem, hit .461 with two home runs - one a 415-foot blast - and seven RBIs and along with Woodward, second baseman Brandon Thomas and catcher Chunk Smith, has helped strengthen Conyers' defense up the middle.
"He made tremendous improvement from his freshman to his sophomore year," Salem coach Chad Kitchens said. "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."
Late runs key
Conyers showed an uncanny ability to score runs late in games during the state tournament. In four games at Douglasville's Hunter Park, Post 77 scored 17 runs in the seventh inning and eight more in the eighth. On the flip side, the Conyers bullpen - Lockwood, Jimmy Gerard, Brandon Crumbley and Travis Tarleton - allowed two runs in 62/3 innings, part of a staff-wide effort of four total runs allowed in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
A win in today's opening-round game against South Carolina state champion Post 193 would put Conyers in a winner's bracket game at 5 p.m. Friday. A loss relegates Post 77 to Friday's 10 a.m. loser's bracket game.
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.