It's no secret what's been carrying Conyers through its playoff run in 2009: Outstanding pitching.
And as Post 77, 2-0 in the Southeast Regional, prepared for its game Saturday night with Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Post 34, the pitching numbers stood out.
In two tournament games, Conyers starters Anthony Bazzani and Kelvan Diaz tossed consecutive shutouts and combined for 16 strikeouts and five walks. Brandon Thomas, who was scheduled to start game three, worked 62/3 of one-run ball in the state tournament clincher against Douglasville.
"They were assassins," coach Eddie Bagwell said of his top two starters. "We've had two days in a row our pitchers very calmly went about their business."
The consecutive complete games allowed Conyers a luxury no other team had after the tournament's first two days - a full and rested bullpen. Thomas is always capable of going long into a game, but just like in the first two games, everyone was available.
"We're going into our third game and haven't used anyone but two starters," Bagwell said early Saturday. "In a tournament like this, pitching runs out at the end very easily because you have to use so many on the front side. We have all eight other pitchers to go today. Having that available to you is huge."
Roberts leads late-inning barrage
With Ross Roberts' run-scoring single in the second-round victory over Bayamon, Conyers scored its 15th run in the seventh inning this postseason. It's part of a playoff-long pattern of late-inning heroics as Post 77 has scored 25 runs in the final three innings.
"We're going to do our best to play our best defense and keep people off base and sooner or later we're going to somehow eke a run out," Bagwell said.
Roberts, moved from the leadoff spot to the two-hole for the regional, is hitting .357 and leads the team in postseason hits with 10.
Smith playing through pain
It hasn't been the greatest week for Chunk Smith's face. The Conyers catcher delayed until after the regional in having a painful wisdom tooth removed, then in Friday's win over Bayamon, Smith hit a foul ball off his face, just above the tooth. Smith also re-injured his right hand, which was broken earlier in the season, on a play at the plate in the fourth inning against Bayamon.
"To his credit, he's been beaten to death," Bagwell said. "Chunk has stepped up and taken most of the service (at catcher) and he's done a wonderful job."
Smith, the longest tenured member of the Post 77 team, played briefly at Savannah State in the spring, but said he's set to retire whenever the legion season ends.
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.