Legion teams score big wins at state

Conyers and Rockdale each faced a late deficit in their American Legion State Tournament games Friday at Hunter Park. Both came out with an improbable victory.

No. 2 seed Conyers scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and defeated No. 3 seed Canton 6-4, while Rockdale exploded for an 11-run seventh inning in a 17-8 losers bracket victory over Albany Post 50.

Canton starter Chris Wakefield had his way with Conyers through seven innings. Wakefield, who struck out 11 in a 99-pitch effort, allowed Cameron Gibson's solo home run in the fourth and Nick Woodward's run-scoring double in the seventh and led 4-2.

The eighth was a different story.

Gibson led off with a double, and Chunk Smith followed with a run-scoring single to make it a 4-3 game. Two batters later, pinch-hitter Beau Thomas reached on an error that scored Smith and tied the game at 4-4 and chased Wakefield.

Brandon Crumbley laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt and Brandon Thomas ripped an opposite field, two-run single to put Conyers up 6-4.

"We were down all game, (but) we started chipping away," Crumbley said. "It all came together."

"We got a big win and feel very fortunate," Conyers coach Eddie Bagwell said. "I'm real proud of (Brandon Thomas), proud of the team effort. Canton probably deserved to win that game and we snatched it."

Canton grabbed an early lead thanks in large part to second baseman Matt Stephens. He tripled and scored on an error in the second inning and laced a two-run single in the third that gave Post 45 a 3-0 lead. In the sixth, Stephens answered Gibson's earlier home run with a solo shot of his own to make it a 4-1 game.

Conyers starter and winning pitcher Anthony Bazzani, who threw 132 pitches and struck out 11 in eight innings, allowed only one other hit. Crumbley walked two batters with two outs in the eighth, but caught Cam Pearson looking to end the game and pick up the save in perhaps the biggest victory of Conyers' season.

"I was over-throwing a little; I was pumped up," Crumbley said. "Got the job done."

"Crumbley came in and slammed the door," Bagwell said. "(The win) puts us in the driver's seat. We control our destiny."

Rockdale had a different kind of come-from-behind win against top seed Albany Post 50.

Trailing 8-5, Rockdale sent 17 batters to the plate and scored 11 runs in a marathon seventh inning. Albany, which lost a heart-breaking, 1-0 game to Gainesville on Thursday, used three pitchers in the frame, none of which had any luck.

Joseph Lester and Ryan Griffin had consecutive singles off starter Michael Schlegel (6 IP, 7 ER) to begin the inning, and Cole Peoples followed with a three-run home run that tied the game at 8-8. The opposite-field shot could prove to be the biggest hit of Rockdale's season.

"I was on deck and I was thinking, 'If I get a fastball, I'd like to tie it up,'" said Peoples, who reached base in all six plate appearances. "He pitched me out and I hit it that way. After the home run, it kind of got things going."

Peoples' shot ended Schlegel's day, but Rockdale was just getting started. Kale Blackshear ripped a go-ahead single off losing pitcher Lance Shenusky, and six other players drove in runs in the inning, capped by Jake Parker's two-run single off Adam Coffey that made it 17-8.

"The wind had been knocked out of our sails, Cole hits one (and) it filled everybody back with life," Rockdale assistant coach Jason McElroy said. "Hopefully that'll stick with us."

Rockdale immediately erased an early 1-0 lead, scoring four runs in the first inning on a wild pitch, Micah Jones' sacrifice fly and Parker's two-run double. Off Rockdale starter J.C. Dunagan (4 IP, 7 ER), Albany answered with two runs in the third inning and four more in the fourth on consecutive RBI hits by Garrett Landreneau, Casey Wilcox and Zach Hood to go up 7-5.

Rockdale's bullpen was excellent in relief of Dunagan. Nick Hembree, recently added to the roster, allowed one earned run in three strong innings to pick up the win. Cameron Griffin struck out three in two scoreless innings.

"We were up 4-1 ... and then it just came unraveled," McElroy said. "J.C. hit that 75-pitch mark and lost it. Nick did an oustanding job (and) Cameron stepped up big today. He's going to have to do it again (in the state tournament), maybe more than once.

Rockdale, which still needs to win three losers bracket games just to reach the championship series, plays Canton at 9 a.m. today. Conyers, two wins away from the state title, plays at 4 p.m. against the Gainesville-Douglasville winner.

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