CONYERS - A big inning by Salem helped turn a close game into a blowout as the Seminoles (22-4 overall, 20-4 in 8-AAAA) scored seven runs in the fifth inning to beat Eastside 10-2 in the final game of the regular season Wednesday.
"We played a good six-inning game. Too bad we have to play seven. Take away that one inning and we're right there in the ball game," Eastside coach Michael Poor said. "We've played one bad inning in the last five or six ball games and that's a huge improvement to playing one or two bad innings a game. We're going to have bad innings, especially as young as we are."
Prior to Salem's big inning, the score was tied at 2-2.
The Eagles (7-19, 7-17) took the lead in the top of the first inning on a Jared Trust sacrifice fly.
They held the lead until the bottom of the third when Corey Womack and Dustin Dunlop scored on wild pitches to give Salem a 2-1 lead.
But it was a soft blooper by Eastside's Joe Thigpen that allowed Hunter Parker to cross the plate and tie the game.
Salem's aggressive play paid dividends in the bottom of the fifth.
The Seminoles took the lead when Dunlop stole home. Rather than throwing home, Eastside pitcher Bobby Coggins threw the ball to first base.
"We picked up something in his delivery. We picked something up and figured we had to take a chance," Salem coach Chris Davis said. "There's no guarantee it'll work, but we had to take a chance and see if we could get a fire started."
Through the first three innings, Eastside's Coggins allowed one hit while facing 13 batters. In the fourth and fifth innings, Salem collected six hits.
"We settled down and made adjustments. He doesn't throw hard. You have to understand that just because a guy doesn't throw hard doesn't mean he's not a good pitcher," Davis said. "I think we started to relax and started looking for some good pitches. The key is to get the ball in play and make the other team make a play; that's it."
The Seminoles put the ball in play and scored runs with the ball never leaving the infield.
On one occasion, Jonathan Brewer hit a pop-up which landed on the mound between four Eastside players. The other, hit by Dunlop, was six feet in front of the catcher but landed just out of everybody's reach.
"They caught some breaks. We didn't do things that we should have and it just got out of control," Poor said.
Brewer showed that he could also hit the ball long with a solo homer in the sixth to give Salem an eight-run advantage.
Dunlop paced the Seminoles at the plate going 3-for-3, including a double.
Stephen Brown got the win for Salem, pitching 42/3 innings while allowing three hits with a strikeout and a walk.
"It was closer than I wanted, but they finally woke up. We had to make things happen and we started executing, caught a few breaks and opened it up," Davis said. "Pitching kept us in it long enough to really get some runs across."
Salem will play in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs next Friday. The Seminoles' seeding and opponent have yet to be determined.
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.