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Salem’s win over West Branch gives Quakers title outright

Salem pitcher Gavin Wilms throws during Tuesday's win at West Branch. (Morning Journal/Anthony Fiuza)

BELOIT — After the first inning, you would think Salem starting pitcher Gavin Wilms came from a different stratosphere the way he controlled the pace as the Quakers won the Eastern Buckeye Conference crown outright with an 8-2 win over rival West Branch on Tuesday.

It is Salem’s first league title since 1991 in the old Mahoning Valley Conference.

In the first inning, Salem (19-3, 10-0) scored all the runs it would ever need in support of its right-hander. Salem’s Jackson Johnson did have an RBI single in the inning, but the Quakers put up four runs in part because of shaky defense behind West Branch pitcher Dru Deshields.

The Warriors cut the deficit in half as they got a RBI single from David Cunningham and Josh Meissner with two outs to make it 4-2 heading into the second inning.

From that point forward, Wilms settled in nicely and was in championship form as he held West Branch scoreless over the next six innings and they only had one hit after the first frame.

Salem head coach Mike DeBarr said he knew his pitcher can get in a groove once he settles into a ball game.

“Sometimes it takes him a little bit to settle in to the game, but once he does he can be a bear out there on the mound,” DeBarr said. “Once he settled in he knew how to attack their hitters. He looked tough, so it was good. I thought his location was great and then when he needed to challenge them he did and he went right at them. His pitch count got up there a little bit, so sometimes we tell him ‘hey if you want to finish what you start you have to go right at them.’ He did do a nice job of getting them off balance early and then when he needed to get an out he goes right at them.”

The Warriors tried to punch in some more runs in the fourth inning. They had runners on first and second base, but Wilms got Greg Rockwell looking at a called third strike to end the threat.

In all, Wilms pitched seven innings, allowed three hits, two runs, three walks, and struck out seven Warriors (16-8, 6-5).

“I felt they would have been a little more aggressive. They were a little bit passive at the plate, so I just had to keep pounding the zone and staying after it,” Wilms said about West Branch’s approach towards him.

The Quakers scored in each of the first four innings which gave Wilms a nice boost in the title game victory.

DeBarr added scoring insurance runs were critical to his clubs success.

“Very important,” DeBarr said. “We knew they’re a good team and so we knew that four wasn’t going to do it in the first. Two more wasn’t going to do it in the second. We just wanted to keep plugging away, keep plugging away. And they gave us some nerve, no doubt about it. I expect them to play much better. It’s going to be much harder for us tomorrow, but that’s what I liked we just kept going. Six wasn’t good enough we needed seven. Seven wasn’t good enough we needed eight. We talked about that.”

The Warriors not only had a hard time at the dish, but they also were flat defensively which gave the Quakers a lot of opportunities to keep innings alive. West Branch committed eight errors.

“Two things kill you in baseball: walks and errors. And when you make eight errors in a game against a good team like Salem, but even against anybody you’re not going to win too many games,” West Branch head coach Rick Mulinix said.

“We gave them three unearned in the first inning. Then, we responded with two which is a good sign, but we just continued to give more errors and more runs. When you’re playing catch up and you’re giving runs against a good pitcher it’s not going to be a good outcome.”

Despite his team’s struggles, Mulinix was pleased with how pitchers Dru Deshields and Carter Holodnak performed on the mound.

“I thought our pitchers did extremely well. I thought Dru Deshields and Carter Holodnak both threw great. There’s not much you can do whenever you’re not playing defense behind the two guys. They didn’t walk anybody. They threw strikes. I don’t think they absolutely hit the ball hard off us. They had a couple good shots, but they didn’t blister the ball against us. When your having ground balls and that’s what you want to do and your not fielding and making the plays it’s kind of tough to win a baseball game.”

Salem and West Branch won’t waste any time on an encore. The two teams will meet again at 5 p.m. today at Salem High School.

But, in the meantime, Wilms and the Quakers will enjoy being title winners in 2021.

“EBC champs man. There’s not much you can say about that,” Wilms said.

S: 4-1-1-2-0-0-0 — 8-8-1

WB: 2-0-0-0-0-0-0 — 2-3-5

S– Gavin Wilms, wp (7IP, 3H, 2R, 7K, 3BB) and Darius Beck.

WB — Dru Deshields, lp (4IP, 6H, 8R, 4ER, 6K, 2BB), Carter Holodnak (3IP, 2H, 2K, 2BB) and Tanner Egli.

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