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Salem baseball survives tough year

CONYERS - Sometimes a baseball team has to go with the hand it was dealt. Such was the case for the 2009 Salem Seminoles, who survived team dismissals and a rash of injuries to finish a respectable 11-9 in the top-heavy Region 8-AAAA. The fact that a fifth-place finish kept first-year coach Chad Kitchens' team out of the playoffs after reaching the Class AAAA final four a year ago, didn't make the 2009 season was a failure.

"I think that that's always the goal, to make the playoffs, and the fact that we didn't doesn't necessarily mean the season wasn't a success," Kitchens said. "We had key injuries, we had some dismissals. Those two things were tough to overcome."

One of the key injuries was to sophomore pitcher/infielder Jimmy Gerard, who hurt his arm late in the season just as Salem dropped its final three region games. The two dismissals hurt even more, and though Kitchens chose to not mention either player by name, he did say "both of the kids are good kids, they just made a bad mistake."

"I wouldn't say that I'm not disappointed (in the season) because of the way things happened," Kitchens said. "But I think we got as much out of our kids and they gave everything they had."

It was a season full of close losses as the Seminoles lost five, one-run games. But without starting pitchers Brandon Crumbley and John Muirhead, it could've been much worse. Crumbley, an Augusta State signee, was the big-game pitcher Salem could count on. Muirhead had a fine season, highlighted by an early-April no-hitter of Habersham Central.

"His presence and experience, (Crumbley) just pitched lights out," Kitchens said. "I can't tell you how big (it) was having him on the mound. Moorhead, I've been working on the history of Salem baseball, but his season ranks really high in the history of the program. Not that it came out of nowhere, but he pitched a lot better than anyone expected he would. Those two kids kept us in the race."

Though a number of key players have played their final game in a Salem uniform - most notably Crumbley and Muirhead - Kitchens is excited for the future. Gerard returns as a key component of the pitching staff, and outfielder Cameron Gibson is one of the finest young talents in Class AAAA.

"Next year, I think we're going to be more talented but we're going to be younger in a couple of spots," Kitchens said. "It all comes down to how these kids are going to buy into our program and what they're going to in the off-season; if they're willing to put the time in and are willing to improve."

Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at kurt.aschermann@rockdalecitizen.com