Following the example set by the New York Yankees, Aiken American Legion Post 26 has proven you can win without a superstar.
With a collection of solid, consistent players, Post 26 swept through the playoffs and will return to the American Legion South Carolina state championship tournament July 29. The double-elimination tournament will be played at Greenville Municipal Stadium, home of the Greenville Braves.
Aiken (16-4) will meet Conway (20-4) in the first round at 1 p.m. July 29. A win would put them in the winner's bracket, where they would play the victor of the Easley-Sumter game July 31 at 5 p.m. A loss would mean Post 26 would play at 10 a.m. July 30.
After beating St. George in the first round of the League IV playoffs, Post 26 swept Orangeburg Post 4, 3-0, last week. Aiken lost three of four regular-season meetings with Post 4.
Post 26 coach Bruce Zuehlke said his team, with five members from Midland Valley's 1997 title squad, used its experience in big games to reverse its fortunes.
"The difference in both series was our playoff experience," Zuehlke said.
"They know at this stage they have to pick up their game and everybody stepped up."
Aiken brought home the 1996 state championship on the shoulders of future minor-leaguers Zay Brown and Josh Miller. This year's squad is full of talent, yet no one player jumps out as the dominant performer.
Whether it's pitching ace Darvin Withers (5-1) or batting leaders Kyle Langley (5 HR, 22 RBI) and Bernard Stephens (.400, 20 RBI, 12 SB), Post 26 has had different players pick up their games at critical moments.
"Offensively, we're a better hitting team than the '96 team," Zuehlke said. "That team had more power, but this year, from top to bottom, we've got better hitters."
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