DOUGLASVILLE - One win to go. Kelvan Diaz pitched 72/3 innings of one-run ball and Cameron Gibson belted a three-run home run to pace the offense in Conyers' 8-3 win over Douglasville in the winner's bracket final of the Georgia American Legion State Tournament at Hunter Park. Conyers awaits the loser's bracket winner in today's championship game, scheduled for 3 p.m.
Diaz was masterful in his biggest start of the season, not allowing a run until the sixth inning and scattering seven hits on a 114-pitch night. He got help from the defense as shortstop Nick Woodward and second baseman Brandon Thomas teamed up on a rally-killing double play in both the second and fifth innings. Diaz also stranded four runners in scoring position.
"I did alright; I think I could've done better," Diaz said. "I was just going to go after (the Douglasville hitters)."
"We saved him for this game, specifically," coach Eddie Bagwell said of Diaz. "He was able to keep them off-balanced (and) - we've stressed all week - defense, defense, defense. I was real pleased with the defense."
Conyers scored all the runs it would need in nine-batter second inning against Douglasville starter Colby Smith (5 IP, 4 ER, 6 K). With one out, Brandon Crumbley walked and Brandon Thomas reached on an error and the red-hot Woodward (5-for-11 in three tournament games) followed with a run-scoring single to put Conyers up 1-0. Ross Roberts followed with a single that scored Thomas and two batters later, Gibson crushed his home run nearly 415 feet to the deepest part of the park to make it 5-0.
"Gibson's home run was big, it was huge, and he's done that all year for us," Bagwell said. "We had a few moments where we swung the bats well (and) we switched the anxiety to them and that's good, especially for me because I'm an old, fat man."
Douglasville finally got to Diaz in the sixth inning, getting three singles from Gary Perkins, Jordan Quinn and Michael Goodman, the last of which made it a 5-1 game. Conyers added three important runs in the seventh to go up 8-1. Following walks to Tyler Austin and Chunk Smith, Travis Tarleton had an RBI-single and Smith and Tarleton raced home on a throwing error by shortstop Taylor Bryant.
David Lockwood, who relieved Diaz with two outs in the eighth and got Dusty Davis to fly out, made things interesting in the ninth. In his second appearance of the tournament, Lockwood allowed a single and two walks to load the bases with no one out. Perkins had a fielder's choice RBI and Davis stroked a run-scoring single to make it 8-3, but Lockwood struck out Justin Newport looking to end the game and send Conyers to the state title game.
"I was real proud of these guys; I'm real pleased," said Bagwell. "You don't see us hooting and hollering (because) we have a goal to win state and we're three-fourths of the way there. Tomorrow is huge, the opportunity is huge."
Conyers is expected to start right-hander Brandon Thomas in today's title game.
Elsewhere at the Georgia American Legion State Tournament
Rockdale's season came to an end in a 16-6 loss to Canton, Saturday morning at Hunter Park. Left-hander Drew Rogers was touched up for seven earned runs in 22/3 innings, putting Rockdale in an early hole.
"(Rogers) looked good (in) warm-ups, but once he got to the mound it went away from him," said Rockdale coach Jack Murphy. "Those things happen."
Brandon Ward, who pitched well in Wednesday's tournament-opening loss to Douglasville, relieved Rogers in the fourth and couldn't work around two errors and a missed tag at the plate on a suicide squeeze. Rockdale's pitching staff, without ace Nathan Fawbush (fractured arm) and reliever Josh Flippen (vacation), faced an rugged climb all weekend after dropping the opener.
"We knew after Wednesday night we had an uphill battle; we were kind of up against it," said Murphy, 20-13 this season and 46-22 in the last two seasons. "When we lost Nathan that pretty much doomed us for the start tournament. Kind of ran out of pitching." Third baseman Micah Jones provided much of the Rockdale offense, doubling twice and driving in four runs.