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2010 ALBANY HERALD RAY KNIGHT PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Allen Fender, Worth County

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

SYLVESTER -- The Fender Bender.

That's Allen Fender's big breaking curve ball, the one he mixed in with some good ol' fashion heat to carve out one of the best seasons in this part of Georgia.

But if you ask Fender about his remarkable senior season at Worth County High, all he will talk about is how the team came together and how they made history by winning the Region 1-AAA title, while Worth County celebrated 100 years of baseball at its historic Pope Park.

"That's what I remember the most, the way everyone came together this year,'' said Fender, who is the The Herald's 2010 Ray Knight Player of the Year for baseball. "Last year, we didn't have any seniors step up and lead, and this year we had all six seniors step up in leadership roles.''

None were bigger than Fender, who dedicated himself to the season before the first pitch. He accepted a scholarship from Darton and signed early, and told his coach why.

"He told me he wanted to sign early to get it out of the way,'' Worth coach Will Smith said. "He said, 'Coach, I want to sign early so I can commit myself to this baseball program and winning a region title.' "

And that's what he did.

For only the second time since 1959, Worth won the region title, and Fender was named the Region 1-AAA Player of the Year. Smith won the region's Coach of the Year award -- as well as the same honor from The Herald -- and the team left a lasting memory.

"It's a season I'll never forget,'' Fender said. "From the very beginning in the fall practices, everyone was together, everyone worked so hard. It was so much fun this year.''

And having Fender on the mound made it even better.

"Anytime he rolled out to the mound I felt I had a better chance of winning than the other (team),'' Smith said.

Fender used his curve to set up his fastball, which was clocked between 83 and 85 mph, and Smith loved the way the big left-hander came right at batters.

"He had the ability to throw his fastball in on your hands,'' Smith said. "He had the confidence to come in on you.''

No one knows that better than the kids at Cairo. Worth had a one-game lead on Cairo late in the season, and had to beat Cairo on the road in what was arguably the biggest game of the season.

Fender threw a one-hitter.

He took a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh, before allowing a single, but by then Worth had already put the game away, 9-1.

"He pitched his best game in the biggest game of the year,'' Smith said. "He just absolutely sawed them off all night.''

You could argue that his opening night gem against Turner County was as big, and the timing couldn't have been better. Worth had an opening-night ceremony at Pope Park, which was celebrating its centennial season.

Smith handed the ball to Fender to set off the festivities. He threw a no-hitter, striking out 13 along the way. Worth won the game, 10-0, and was on its way to one of its most memorable seasons.

Although, Fender always seemed to pitch his best when it counted, and his 5-1 record in the region is the best evidence. He had a 2.30 ERA while leading Worth to an 11-3 region record, and he struck out 76 in just 53 innings.

He was just about as good at the plate, where he batted .385 and drove in 30 runs. He had a .600 slugging percentage, and belted three homers. But the stat Smith loves the most is Fender's dozen two-out RBI, the kind of clutch hits that win games.

Fender played first base, but late in the season, Smith put his star in left field in the late innings of big games to help his defense -- and it worked. Fender threw out three base runners.

"The other coach would come over surprised,'' Smith said. "They didn't realize I had moved him to left field. If they knew he was out there they never would have run on his arm.''

Fender just did what he had to do to make Worth better.

"The Cairo game was a big achievement, because it kept us in first place and helped us win the region,'' Fender said. "And the Turner game was the first of the season. The game that stands out to me (the most) is the second game against Westover. I didn't pitch, but Cory Odem stepped up and pitched a great game and we beat them.''

That's the way Fender looks at his season -- through the eyes of being a teammate.

"It was a great feeling this year,'' he said. "Everyone stepped up every game, and it didn't matter if you started, you were the DH, or if you were on the bench. Everyone had a part.''

Fender, however, did have one personal goal.

"After my sophomore year I had a goal of being the Region 1-AAA Player of the Year,'' Fender said.

He won that and so much more.

"You know he hurt his arm his freshman year and we didn't have a JV team, so his freshman year was kind of a wash,'' Smith said. "To see him work as hard as he did and come back and have the kind of incredible season he had this year really makes me proud of him.

"What I'm the most proud of is when he told me (after signing early with Darton) how he wanted to commit himself to this team. He really took up a leadership role. All the seniors did. There was a certain point in the season -- and he knows when it was -- when he just took over as a leader. I'm so proud of him being (The Herald's Player of the Year).''