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SALEM, Va. -- Though Frederick and Salem combined for 26 hits, the pivotal play Monday was a defensive gem by left fielder Chris Amador in the eighth inning.
With the visiting Keys clinging to a 5-4 lead, Amador, who had started in right field, gunned down pinch-runner Greg Buchanan to end a two-run rally by the Avalanche.
Frederick went on to win, 6-4, and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Carolina League Finals.
"That was a big play [by Amador]," said Keys interim manager J.J. Cannon. "For me, that was the play of the game."
The game shaped up as an offensive duel as the Keys hit Avalanche ace Sergio Perez early on. With one out in the first, Jonathan Tucker doubled to left field, moved to third on Zach Dillon's single and scored on Ryan Finan's deep sacrifice fly.
Frederick made it 2-0 in the third when Dillon, who went 3-for-5 with two runs scored, smacked a leadoff double to left and scored on Mark Fleisher's single past diving first baseman Pat Osborn.
The Avalanche pulled within a run in the fourth when Mark Ori led off with a single and came home on a single by catcher Justin Tellam, who was making his first appearance in the series.
Dillon led off the fifth with his second double, moved to third on another deep flyout by Finan and scored on Fleisher's sacrifice fly to center field, making it 3-1.
Salem again answered back with a run in the bottom of the inning as Wladimir Sutil led off with a single, moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Mitch Einertson's single to center.
Keys shortstop Blake Davis turned his ankle during a play in the field in the third, and though he stayed in the game initially, he was clearly hobbling during his next at-bat.
As a result, Cannon made some defensive changes in the sixth. Second baseman Tucker moved to short, left fielder Pete Maestrales switched to second, Amador moved to left and Brent Krause, who hit for Davis in the top of the sixth, went into the game in right.
The Keys seemed to break the game open in the seventh when they scored twice off reliever Chris Salamida. The big hits were an RBI double off the center-field wall by Finan and another deep sacrifice fly, this one to right by Amador to make it 5-2.
However, it was the Keys' defensive shift that would prove crucial in the eighth.
Frederick reliever Chad Thall loaded the bases with no outs, forcing the Keys to go to closer Jason Burch an inning early. After Orlando Rosales struck out, Sutil collected his fourth hit, a looper to right that scored Osborn and Cesar Quintero and put runners at first and second.
With two outs, Einertson, the Carolina League MVP, blasted a hit into left field, but Amador came up with it and fired home to Dillon, who laid down the tag on a sliding Tellam to end the threat.
"We're playing on the road in a tough environment and for Amador to come up with a clutch throw like that was just huge," said Finan.
Though Maestrales has been a valuable utility player for the Keys this season, Cannon said it's less likely he makes that play.
"Amador is a true outfielder, while Maestrales' arm is not as strong and he's not as quick getting to the ball," Cannon admitted. "So with such a fast runner, it would have been difficult. Amador was the right person there at the right time, so thank goodness it worked out like that."
The Keys tacked on an insurance run in the ninth on an RBI infield single by Amador, and Burch put away the Avalanche in the ninth for his second save of the series.
The victory leaves Frederick one win from its second league title in the last three years. The Keys also are looking to become the third team in Carolina League history to win the crown with a losing regular-season record (64-74).
"We're locked in and these guys are so confident at what they can do now," said Cannon. "I don't think there is any team we face that we don't think we can outhit or hit just as well. It's just a matter of not making errors and beating ourselves. If we don't do that, I think we're going to be tough. And every night someone else comes up big and our guys know that."
Though the Avalanche manhandled the Keys during the regular season, going 14-6 and hitting .304 against them, they still have their work cut out for them if they want to win their first league title since 2001.
"We had a losing record in the regular season, so there are a lot of teams that did well against us," Finan said. "But come playoff time, that stuff really doesn't matter as long as we believe in ourselves and play fundamental baseball. Our pitchers all year keep getting better and better, and baseball at any level is pitching, defense and timely hitting."
NOTES: Sutil went 4-for-5 for the Avalanche, the first four-hit game of his five-year pro career. The 1-2-3 batters for Salem -- Sutil, Hart and Einertson -- combined to hit 9-for-15. ... The Avalanche were without starting third baseman Chris Johnson, who strained his wrist during batting practice. ... Though he played for the visiting team, Fleisher is considered a "local boy" since he played his college ball at Radford University, less than an hour from Salem. He had friends and coaches on hand to cheer him on. ... Keys manager Tommy Thompson remained hospitalized in Frederick with acute diverticulitis and was not expected to make it to Salem for the series. He'd been listening to the game online. "I hope he heard tonight's results," Cannon said. "We're calling him after the game to wish him good night and let him know we're just one game from getting his title for him." ... Chorye Spoone (10-9, 3.26), who had a no-hitter through 8 2/3 innings in the Northern Division title clincher, will start Game 4 for the Keys. The Avalanche will respond with Polin Trinidad, who joined the team from Lexington in mid-August and posted a 2.81 ERA in four starts. In his Southern Division playoff outing, he tossed seven shutout innings in a no-decision against Kinston.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.