CONYERS - The Salem baseball team finally ended a seven-year drought last week, advancing to the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs by sweeping Lakeside-DeKalb.
Now the Seminoles turn their attention to a new challenge, taking on the No. 1-ranked team in Class AAAA.
Salem (24-4) squares off with host East Paulding (25-3) in a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. in Dallas. If necessary, the third game is slated for 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
"They are well deserving of the No. 1 ranking, but at the same time, we view this as a challenge," Salem coach Chris Davis said. "Every team has that goal of being the only team left in the end. If you are going to get there, then you have to go through everyone at some time or another."
The Raiders, the Region 5-AAAA champions, are coming off an easy first-round sweep of Ridgeland, winning by scores of 15-0 and 10-1.
East Paulding has lost only once this season to a team from Georgia. Alexander beat East Paulding 4-1 back on March 21, the only blemish on the Raiders' 21-1 region mark. The Raiders' other two losses were to teams from Tennessee.
"They have a very good baseball team," Davis said. "They have two of the best pitchers we will have seen all season in Zach Wheeler and Adam Hall. They are very good defensively and hit the ball extremely well."
On the other and, East Paulding faces its own challenge in Salem, which enters the game on 10-game winning streak. The Seminoles have already won on the road in the postseason, dispatching Lakeside-DeKalb 6-1 and 3-2 in eight innings.
Salem is making its first trip to the second round of the postseason since 2001. Seven years ago, the Seminoles swept Crisp County in the first round on the road before falling to Columbus in the second round, also on the road.
Playing against quality competition is nothing new for Salem. The Seminoles, who finished third in Region 8-AAAA with a 20-4 record, split their regular-season meetings with No. 3-ranked Loganville and No. 4-ranked Heritage.
In fact, Davis feels the tough competition in 8-AAAA should help his squad in this round.
"Absolutely, we have teams in our region that are among the best in the state and our guys realize that to beat good teams you need to play well," Davis said. "At the same time, because we have competed and beaten good teams in our region, our guys go into East Paulding believing they belong and believing they can win."
Once again, the Seminoles will need strong pitching. Last week, Jake Dyer turned in a gem in Game 1 against Lakeside, while Brandon Crumbley, Dustin Dunlop and Stephen Brown combined on a one-hitter in Game 2.
"Our pitching was fantastic in round one. The key for both teams will be working ahead (in the count), eliminating walks and making each batter earn what they get," Davis said. "Our pitchers will have to be sharp, hitting their spots, changing speeds and the defense will need to play well behind them because East Paulding is going to put the ball in the play."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If you go
· What: Second round class AAAA state baseball playoffs
· Who: Salem Seminoles (24-4) vs. East Paulding Vikings (25-3)
· When: Today, 4 p.m., doubleheader
· Where: East Paulding H.S.