Playoff bound: 2013 Smokies celebrate second-half title

Photo Courtesy: Blake McKinney

Photo Courtesy: Blake McKinney

By: Nick Roark

A runner at second base, two outs in the ninth and only one out away from a North Division second-half title, Smokies closer Frank Batista climbed the mound to deliver a 1-1 pitch to Mobile catcher Rossmel Perez.

“Ball’s popped up, foul ground,” Tennessee Smokies broadcaster Mick Gillispie said as Perez skied a ball towards the third-base dugout. “Third baseman (Christian) Villanueva over by the camera well on the warning track, reaches in the air and he’s got it! And the Smokies are headed back to the playoffs!”

Congratulatory hugs and high fives were exchanged and the champagne was finally taken off ice. Manager Buddy Bailey nearly drowned in two Gatorade baths and the celebration was on.

“It’s not every day you can be North Division champs,” Smokies infielder Nate Samson said as champagne dripped from the crown of his head. “But we’ve been fortunate enough to have it a few years, especially back-to-back years.”

Samson – now in his fifth separate year with Tennessee – made title runs with the Smokies from 2009 through 2011 and was part of the 2012 squad that failed to make the postseason with a 72-68 record.

Matt Loosen made sure the Smokies secured their 71st win of the season Monday evening with his best outing in a Tennessee uniform, tossing seven scoreless innings and allowing only three hits while striking out six batters.

“You know,” Loosen said, “we’ve been thinking about clinching obviously since it’s been there for us. So I mean my mindset wasn’t any different. I just wanted to go out there and pitch well and keep us in the ballgame and hopefully get a W.”

The victory sealed franchise’s first playoff appearance since Tennessee lost to the BayBears in the 2011 Southern League Championship Series. The loss capped off three consecutive championship series losses, something Smokies first baseman Justin Bour hopes to turn around this September.

“It feels good knowing that we’re going to be moving on to the playoffs,” Bour said as his teammates poured beer on one another in the background. “None of that guess work knowing who’s got to win, who’s got to lose? You know we took care of business in the second half and got it done.”

“You’ve got to get hot at the right time going to the playoffs,” Bour said. “It’s all about who is hot at the right time. Anyone can win it, so why not us?”

Center fielder Matt Szczur quickly pointed out he would prefer to be celebrating in three weeks. While Smokies gathered for a team photo – proudly showing off their North Division champion t-shirts – the Cubs No. 14 rated prospect stood in the distance to share his thoughts on winning a Southern League title before smiling for the cameras with his teammates.

“We didn’t win anything yet. This is a good celebration but we’ve got to look forward to a championship and not just a playoff (berth),” Szczur said. “We’ve got to look at the big picture and we’ve got to win a championship here and then win a World Series in the big show. That’s when we should be partying.”

“It’s just going to take everything (to win),” Samson said on looking towards the postseason. “We’re going to have to hit, we’re going to have to pitch, it’s going to have to be timely hitting, get the runs and once we get the lead hold it.”

“We have an absolute shot (to claim the title) a beer-soaked Nick Struck said of the club’s championship chances.

“The pitching we’ve got,” the hurler said, “and the runs we put up, we should be able to do something big.”

And if things go the way Tennessee hopes, the Smokies will be able pose for a team photo in their 2013 Southern League Champion shirts.

To stay current with all the latest news, follow Smokies on Radio on Twitter and like the Smokies on Radio Facebook page.  Nick Roark is the Senior Beat Writer for the Smokies Radio Network.  You can follow him on Twitter here: NickRoark4.

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Categories: 2013 Smokies Feature


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