CONYERS - Jay Swinford pitched six strong innings and the Clarke Central offense did the rest in the Gladiators' 10-2 win over Salem.
In a 116-pitch effort, Swinford mixed a mid-80s fastball with an effective curveball to strike out 10 and scatter four hits against a beleaguered Salem team.
"Their pitcher was dealing," Seminoles coach Chad Kitchens said. "(And) the only chance we had was to win a low-scoring game."
An ineffective Cody Strange didn't allow that to happen. The Salem starter got in trouble right away, giving up a pair of runs in the top of the first inning. Clarke Central first baseman Bradley West doubled with two outs and scored on Gazzara Mitchell's throwing error. Two batters later, Parker Evans came within a few feet of a home run, settling for a run-scoring double that put visiting Clarke Central (11-7, 7-7 Region 8-AAAA) up 2-0.
Salem wasn't as lucky in the third inning. After West reached on a fielding error and Taylor Layne walked, freshman Alex Harris crushed his first career home run, a three-run shot high above the trees in right field, to give Central a 5-1 cushion.
In the sixth, West, who drove in a run on a fielder's choice in the fourth, belted a two-run shot that made it a 9-2 game.
"(Strange is) effective when he keeps the ball down," Kitchens said. "(Thursday), he was leaving the ball up."
"We went up there with the right approach," Clarke Central coach Kyle Kirk said. "We're seeing the ball and reacting to the fastball. That's our game."
Meanwhile, Swinford went to work from the second through fifth innings, getting two strikeouts in each frame. The junior finished his night with a seven-pitch sixth inning.
"Early in the season, I hadn't established the inside fastball," Swinford said. "(Tonight) I was just trying to get ahead with (the fastball)."
"That's the pitcher he is; he came out tonight and did an excellent job," Kirk said. "We got him about a week's rest, (and) that's probably the hardest he's thrown all year."
Salem (12-10, 10-6), which had its three-game win streak snapped, did touch Swinford for a run in the second on John Muirhead's opposite field single, and in the fifth on Logan Singleton's RBI groundout.
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.