American Legion state tournament opens today at Darton College

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- The castoffs have grown up.

The have-nots are ready to have, and the kids with their noses pressed against the window are now inside making a name for themselves.

Welcome to the world of Leesburg Post 182 American Legion baseball, where the program that was revived a year ago with a bunch of kids who just wanted a chance to play enters this weekend's state tournament as the No. 1 seed in Georgia.

"We've got a chance to win it,'' said coach Larry Cook, whose team opens play Saturday at 1 p.m. against the winner of tonight's Albany Post 30-Rockdale Post 77 game. The tournament opens today at 4 p.m at Darton, where all games will be held. The winner advances to the region tournament next weekend in South Carolina.

"We've been swinging the bats really well, and if we can get a little bit of pitching I think we can win it,'' Cook said Thursday.

These kids can bash. The team is batting .304, and six players are hitting over .370. Mac Arnold is batting .435 with 12 RBI, and Will Wilson is hitting .405 with 13 RBI. Daniel Conger is hitting 400, and Blake Chaney is hitting .385 with 12 RBI. Banks Kinslow, who joined the team after the season started, stepped right in and is hitting .375. Casey James is batting .371.

"This team can hit,'' said Kinslow, who pitched, played shortstop and helped Deerfield-Windsor reach the GISA Class AAA state title series. "We feel like if we play our game that we have a chance to win it.''

Rain washed out the end of the regular season, and Post 182 hasn't played in a couple of weeks. Kinslow said that shouldn't be a factor.

"Everyone has been swinging the bats,'' Kinslow said. "It's the end of July. We're ready. If we're not ready now I don't know when we would be ready.''

Post 182 has come such a long way to get here. The legion team in Leesburg was dissolved, but resurrected last season.

Here's what happened: They were holding tryouts for the Albany Post 30 team last summer, and the turnout was more than anyone expected.

"Post 30 had a tryout and we had a bunch of kids left over, so we decided to have another team,'' said Cook, who had been involved as a coach for Post 30 for nine years and a parent and assistant coach for more than 15.

Cook took the castoffs and made a team, and Post 182 was reborn. Some of those kids returned this season, and many others joined the team.

"We had nothing but young kids last year and (lost quite a few games),'' Cook said. "But this year we have some of those kids back, and we have kids from about 10 different high schools on this team. It's been fun watching them grow together and mesh together as a team this year. That's what it's all about -- watching them grow as a team.''

And it's been even more fun to win.

"We came together this year,'' said second baseman Austin Murphy, a rising junior at Deerfield who played for Post 182 last year. "We have more of a team feeling this year. All the guys get along great, and we have great team chemistry. It was different last year. Last year we had a lot of young guys and no leadership. This year we have older guys and a lot of leaders to push everyone. Having these guys come in definitely made you want to pick it up.''

They did.

"At the first of the year we didn't know what we had,'' Cook said. "Last year we were playing with 15- and 16-year-olds against 19-year-olds. These kids came together and got better. Now we think we've got a chance to win every time we step on the field.''

Post 182's top two pitchers are Conger, who is from Tiftarea, and Weston King, who is a Deerfield junior. They have both come through this season -- a season of surprises.

Cook said among the surprises was Arnold.

"He was the biggest,'' he said. "He stepped into that leadoff role and has done a great job for us.''

Chaney, who hits in the No. 3 spot, is a perfect example of what this team turned into this season. Chaney is from Ware County and is an incoming freshman at Darton.

"It's been great meeting new people,'' he said. "But we also had some players from my area come play for this team. We've all come together as a team. We've got a chance to win it. When we come together and play the way we can play, we're unbelievable. When we're playing ball and on our P's and Q's, nobody can play with us.''