Salem shortstop Levi Bonilla fielded a sharp ground ball off the bat of Apalachee's Clint Ashe, stepped on second to force the runner for the final out of a tight 7-6 Region 8 AAAA win Wednesday night.
The Seminoles improved their second-place regional mark to 12-3 with the win at their home field. But it wasn't easy.
Salem, behind the heads up running and power of centerfielder Cameron Gibson, built a 5-0 lead through three innings but had to twice fight off spirited Apalachee comeback efforts.
The Wildcats got two runners on base in the fourth and with two outs, centerfielder Zach Genrty drove a ball over the right field fence to significantly narrow the Salem lead 5-3.
"We've had that pattern lately," Salem coach Chad Kitchens said. "We get a good lead and then make an error or something and suddenly we let them back in the game."
It was an error by the usually reliable Bonilla that led to one of the Apalachee runners in the fourth. But the Wildcats also supplied some offense as the game continued.
Salem scored two more in the bottom of the fourth when Gibson hit his seventh homer of the season to plate teammate Josh Bailey. The two runs batted in increased the talented junior's season total to 30.
Ahead comfortably again 7-3, Salem discovered that Apalachee refused to go away.
This time the Wildcats got to Salem starter Jimmy Gerard with a base on balls and an off the wall single to put runners at the corners. After getting an infield fly out, Apalachee got another single to drive in a run and leave runners at second and third base. The second run of the inning was brought home on a fielder's choice. Gerard got the final out of the inning on a pop up to the Seminoles' third baseman Wells Baldwin.
After Salem was held scoreless in the bottom of the fifth, Apalachee threatened again in the top of the sixth. Gerard got two quick outs but the gave up two walks and a single to load the bases. Kitchens brought in Gibson to replace Gerard and he got the third out on a fly ball to left field.
Salem was blanked again in the bottom of the sixth and Apalachee made one more attempt to tie the game in the top of the seventh. Gibson gave up a walk and then got a strikeout before giving up a single to give the Wildcats runners at first and second. A fly ball to left field furnished the second out before Apalachee's Eric Morgan singled to narrow the score to 7-6.
Then, with the runners at first and second, Gibson got the ground ball to Bonilla to end the game and preserve the Salem win.
"I didn't want to call on Cameron that early but felt we needed to do it," Kitchens said. "And he came through for us again. And Jimmy (Gerard) did his job tonight, too."
Salem's offense in the early going was ignited by some good base running by Gibson when he got on base despite striking out in the first inning. A passed ball by Apalachee allowed Gibson to reach first on what would have been the third out. After stealing second, Gibson scored on a single from Gerard.
The Seminoles scored four runs in the bottom of the second when Zach Bailey got on base with a walk and stole second. Then with two outs, Bonilla singled home Bailey and later scored on an error by Apalachee. Bailey and Gibson also got on base via a walk and hit by pitch and also scored on errors.
Gibson's save was his ninth of the season and the Seminoles travel to Athens to face Clarke Central in another important regional game.