GAINESVILLE - Once Gainesville began playing small ball, Conyers was in big trouble.
Gainesville scored three runs in the final two innings, mostly on bunt hits and walks, to nip Conyers 3-2 on Thursday at Ivey-Watson Field.
Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Trey Ponson drew the first walk off Conyers starter Brandon Thomas, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Thomas' throwing error on an attempted pickoff to cut the lead in half at 2-1.
In the eighth, Gainesville bunted three consecutive batters, the last of which from Ryan Avery drew an errant throw from Conyers third baseman Travis Tarleton and scored Jordan Wilson with the tying run. Later, Ponson's sacrifice fly made it a 3-2 game.
"We knew they were going to bunt; (we) tried to get some pitches up, inside, and it didn't work," said Conyers coach Eddie Bagwell. "We also had lapses (on defense)."
Thomas was the tough-luck loser, allowing just one earned run and striking out eight in 71/3 innings.
"Brandon Thomas threw his tail off; he pitched a great game, deserved to win," Bagwell said. "Everything was working real well for him; he and (pitching coach Jody) Gilbert were on the exact same page. He was hitting his spots."
At one point, the right-hander retired 11 consecutive batters and had a 2-0 lead heading into the seventh thanks to Conyers' own brand of small ball.
In the top of the sixth, Nick Woodward reached on an error by Gainesville shortstop Ponson and moved to second on Beau Thomas' infield single. Brandon Thomas had a bunt single to load the bases, and after Tarleton's sacrifice fly put Post 77 up 1-0, Beau Thomas scored on the back end of an attempted double steal-turned-pickoff, and Conyers grabbed a 2-0 cushion.
But that was all the runs Conyers would get, thanks to Gainesville starter James Mills. The right-hander pitched a complete game and struck out eight in his second dominant effort against Conyers.
In the POW/MIA Tournament on June 19, Mills gave up two hits and lost a heart-breaking 1-0 decision.
Post 77 had chances late, getting the tying run in scoring position in each of the final two innings, but Mills got a Tarleton fly out to end the eighth and retired Taylor Jackson and Jimmy Gerard with runners on first and second in the ninth to finish a 110-pitch, eight-hitter.
"Mills pitched a good game; second time we've seen him," said Bagwell. "But we didn't execute a couple things and we've got some guys slumping a little; it's got us perplexed."
Conyers was also missing several key players, including No. 3 hitter Cameron Gibson; cleanup hitter and catcher Tyler Austin and Anthony Bazzani.
"We're playing short-handed," said Bagwell. "But I was real proud. ...(we) battled and had the game won."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at email@example.com.