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Salem keeps first-half title hopes alive

Matt Barnes held the visiting Mudcats without a hit through the first four innings and struck out nine in his five-inning stint, leading Salem over Carolina 4-3 on Thursday night at LewisGale Field.

The Red Sox win combined with Winston-Salem’s 4-3 loss in Wilmington moved Salem within two games of first place with three games remaining in the first-half playoff chase. Heiker Meneses went 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBI for the Sox, leading the offense from the bottom of the order. Andrew Jones earned his first Carolina League save, closing it out with a perfect ninth to wrap up Salem’s seventh win in eight tries against Carolina on the season.

Barnes dealt 85 pitches over five innings, retiring 12 of the first 13 he faced with eight strikeouts through four. He collected his ninth and final strikeout in the fifth when he allowed one run on two hits. Jesus Aguilar led off with a double and scored two batters later on Bo Greenwell’s RBI single. But the lone blemish did not ruin Barnes’ day, in which he improved his record to 5-1 in the Carolina League and 7-1 overall. His ERA sits at 1.37 in the CL, 0.99 on the season, and he now owns 95 strikeouts and 12 walks in his 13 professional starts between Salem and Greenville.

Salem broke a scoreless stalemate in the last of the second inning, with Meneses smacking an RBI single off Francisco Jimenez to lift the Sox to a 1-0 lead. One batter later, Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s RBI ground out put the Sox up 2-0. In the fourth, Michael Almanzar led off with a single and Christian Vazquez doubled him home to give the Sox a three-run lead. Two batters after that, Meneses drove in his second run, singling home Vazquez to make it 4-0.

Although the Mudcats crept within a run via the lone tally against Barnes in the fifth and two runs (one earned) against Jones in the eighth, Salem hung on for its 39th win of the half, improving the Sox to a season-best 12 games above .500.

Winston-Salem’s magic number remained at two, as the Dash lead the Sox by two games with three contests remaining in the first-half Southern Division title chase. Salem is looking for its first first-half title since 1988.

The journey continues on Friday with Brandon Workman taking the mound opposite Mike Rayl, with the first pitch between the Red Sox and Mudcats set for 7:05.