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A feather in Salem’s cap

Salem’s Jackson Johnson tips his hat after hitting a first-inning home run against Girard on Wednesday. (Morning Journal/Ron Firth)

SALEM — Talented Salem set the tempo early, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after the first inning and rolled to a 12-0 five-inning triumph over Girard in a Division II sectional championship baseball game Wednesday.

“I was really impressed offensively,” said Salem coach Mike DeBarr. “We saw better pitching from Girard this time around, and I told our guys I loved their approach, and then Gavin (Wilms) went out and just threw a heck of a game.”

The win vaults the third-seeded Quakers (18-7), who have won seven games in a row, into a district semifinal at fifth-seeded Louisville at 5 p.m. Monday. The Leopards advanced Wednesday with a 8-0 win over 19th-seeded Struthers.

In two games against Girard this season, the Quakers blanked the Indians by identical 12-0 finals. The youthful Indians bow out with a 4-18 record.

The Quakers combined a 10-hit attack, led by first baseman Jackson Johnson, with a sterling pitching performance by standout right-hander Gavin Wilms, who tossed a complete game three-hitter while striking out seven and walking one.

Johnson, who was named the Quakers’ player of the game, got Salem rolling early when he stepped to the plate with one out in the top of the first inning and launched a towering home run over the right-field fence, giving the hosts a quick 1-0 lead. Before he was through, Johnson had a home run, single, walk and four RBIs on the evening.

“I didn’t (know it was gone), I thought I missed it a little bit,” smiled Johnson of his first-inning round-tripper.

“Jackson Johnson kind of got us started with that home run,” said DeBarr. “Jackson kind of kick-started it but then everybody else jumped on board.”

Other Quakers with big nights at the plate included Darius Beck (double, RBI single), Gavin Wilms (two singles), Brock Young two RBI singles), Lance Bailey RBI single), Corey Riesen (single) and Cayden Burt (RBI).

“Our one through nine was pretty impressive,” said DeBarr.

“The expectations are real high this year because we only lost three guys from last year’s (regional final) team and we want to do just as good if not better,” said Johnson.

Meanwhile, Wilms was masterful on the mound, striking out the first three batters he faced. He went on to record seven strikeouts in his five innings of work.

“He (Wilms) is the best pitcher we’ve seen,” said Girard coach Aaron Alejars, a former coach at Salem. “It was the true deal on the scouting report we had on him there.”

Girard knuckleballer Nate Freeland absorbed the loss, working the first 2 2/3 innings while striking out two and walking seven Quakers. Jordan Johnson worked the final 1 1/3 innings in relief.

“Our pitcher struggled to get ahead in the counts and against good hitting teams when you get behind in the count it’s tough,” said Alejars.

Salem led 3-0 after one with the big blows being the Johnson solo homer and a Brock Young RBI single to center. The Quakers also scored when Beck raced home on a Girard overthrow to third base.

Salem made it 4-0 in the bottom of the second. Speedster Blaize Exline walked, stole second and third base and scored on a Jackson RBI groundout.

The Quakers increased their advantage to 6-0 in the bottom of the third as Burt had an RBI fly ball out to left and the Quakers added another run on a throwing error by the Indians.

Salem, which scored in every inning, blew the game wide open with a sixth-run fourth inning, with the big blows coming on a two RBI single by Johnson, an RBI single by Bailey, a long RBI single off the left field wall by Beck and an RBI single by Wilms.

It all added up to a 12-0 lead at the end of the fourth inning. Then Wilms, who pitched in a steady rain throughout the game, got the final three outs in the top of the fifth, including two strikeouts.

Alejars wished Salem all the best moving forward in the tourney.

“I coached here (at Salem) for 13 years and hopefully they (the Quakers) can win the whole thing,” he said.

DeBarr said the Quakers are looking forward to their rematch with Louisville.

“The expectations are up there from outside and inside we have expectations,” said DeBarr, whose Quakers returned the bulk of their team from last year’s D2 regional final club.

“Louisville’s a real good team, they beat us once already 2-0 at their place. So to have to go back there and face them will be a challenge, but I think it’s a challenge our guys are looking forward to.”

G: 0-0-0-0-0– 0- 3-3

S: 3-1-2-6-x–12-10-1

S-Gavin Wilms, wp (5IP, 7K, 1BB) and Darius Beck.

G-Nate Freeland, lp (2 2/3IP, 2K, 7BB), Jordan Johnson (1 1/3IP, 0K, 3BB) and Jaxon Strain.

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