LOGANVILLE - After two games and 14 innings, all that separated Salem from a trip to the Class AAAA championship baseball series was two runs.
The Seminoles (28-10) saw their historic season come to an end on Memorial Day, dropping a pair of one-run decisions to Loganville. The Red Devils took Game 1 6-5 and then held on to claim Game 2 9-8, sending a Region 8-AAAA squad to the championship series for the second year in a row.
"There were a lot of ifs and ands in both games, but I'm just proud of my team. They battled to the very end and that's all I ever wanted," Salem coach Chris Davis said. "It's tough (to lose), but one day they are going to realize how special this season has been. I can't say enough about them."
In Game 1, the Seminoles came out swinging. Dustin Dunlop greeted Loganville starting pitcher Ben Marshall with a leadoff home run to start the game.
Josh Bailey followed with a single and eventually scored on Taylor Lamb's perfect squeeze bunt, giving the Seminoles a
But in what would become a theme throughout both games, Loganville quickly tied the game in the bottom of the first. Clay Garner doubled in a run and scored on a Luke Baker groundout.
The Seminoles jumped back in front 3-2 in the top of third when Brandon Crumbley's double off the wall knocked in Jake Dyer.
However, Loganville countered with three runs in the bottom of the third against Salem's starting pitcher Dyer. Garner had a two-run double and scored again on a Baker grounder, giving Loganville a 5-3 advantage.
Salem's Cameron Gibson cut the deficit to one with a solo homer in the top of the fourth.
The Red Devils added a key insurance run in the bottom fifth. Loganville's Casey Shiver reached on an error and Garner followed with another RBI double, his third of the game and his fourth RBI.
In the top of the seventh, Salem's Gibson blasted another homer, this time a leadoff shot off Loganville's Shiver, cutting the deficit to one.
Dunlop followed with a one-out single and moved to second on a wild pitch, putting the game-tying run in scoring position.
But Shiver bounced back to retire Bailey and Dyer to wrap up the Game 1 victory.
In Game 2, the Red Devils jumped to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first only to see the Seminoles take advantage of two errors to tie the game in the bottom of the frame.
Loganville struck for two more runs against Salem starting pitcher Drew Dentler in the top of the second. But the Seminoles added two more runs on an error in the bottom of the second.
The Red Devils added single runs in the third and fifth, taking a 6-4 lead.
However, Salem came roaring back in the bottom of the fifth. Crumbley, Lamb and Logan Singleton led off with singles to load the bases. The Seminoles scored a run off a double play before Gibson's delivered a clutch two-out single to tie the game.
However, in the top of the seventh, Loganville's Brandon Cruce blasted a two-out, three-run homer that appeared to put the final nails in Salem's 2008 coffin.
But, once again, the Seminoles rallied in the bottom of the frame.
Bailey, a pinch-hitter, singled to lead off the inning and moved to second on Gibson's single. After the runners moved up a base on a tapper in front of the plate, Dunlop delivered an RBI single to slice Salem's deficit to 9-7.
And then, Loganville relief pitcher Blake McCullers balked in Gibson to bring the Seminoles within a run.
But McCullers struck out Dentler and induced Dyer into a game-ending groundout to wrap up the victory and the series.
"We had a bunch of opportunites and scored on some and didn't score on others. Both teams did that," Davis said. "In the Final Four, teams are supposed to capitalize on opportunities. I thought each team would be able to hit the ball, because we know each other extremely well.
"They have a good lineup and it's tough to keep them from scoring runs, and I just felt like our guys believed they could score on anybody. Their pitchers are tough and, when we got some things going, they were good enough to keep us from stringing a lot of runs together."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.