After the Smokies came back to force extra innings with a four-run ninth, Tennessee shortstop Elliot Soto delivered the clutch walk-off run-scoring single in the eleventh to end an exciting come-from-behind series-clinching 7-6 victory over the Mississippi Braves on Sunday afternoon at Smokies Stadium.
With the triumph, the Smokies finished the first half of the 2014 campaign with a 33-36 record and took the series 3-2 over Mississippi. The Braves wrapped up their first half slate with a 39-30 mark, though they still lead the overall season series 6-4.
Entering the final frame of regulation down four, Tennessee stormed back to force extra innings. LF Anthony Giansanti and 2B Stephen Bruno began the rally with back-to-back base knocks, with Giansanti going from first to third on Bruno’s hit, before he was driven home on 3B Kris Bryant’s sacrifice fly to cut the margin to three.
Following 1B Dustin Geiger’s free pass, RF Rubi Silva slapped an RBI bloop single, his third hit of the game to plate Bruno, while C Taylor Davis walked to load the bases for CF Jae-Hoon Ha with two outs. Ha then chopped a 1-2 pitch into the dirt directly back to Braves pitcher John Cornely, but the throw sailed over the Mississippi first baseman’s head to extend the game and allow both Geiger and Silva to score, evening the game at 6-6 and forcing free baseball.
Two innings later, the Smokies would deal the final blow from Soto. Davis started the 11th with a line drive single to center and then moved to second when Ha reached base again on an error to set the scene for Soto, who drove the first pitch of the at bat up the middle and into center field to give Tennessee the win and cue the celebration.
For the fourth time in the series and third game in a row, the Smokies also plated a first-inning score Bruno reached on a single to left, and then took second on a groundout, prior to coming across when Silva drove an RBI single into left to put Tennessee up 1-0.
Mississippi, meanwhile, would counter back with a tally of their own in the very next frame. C Matt Kennelly reached on an error to begin the second, advanced to second on a hit by pitch and third on a wild pitch, before being brought plateward on a run-scoring groundout to nod the contest even at 1-1.
Tennessee then grabbed back the lead with another run in the fourth to go up 2-1. Ha led off the inning with an infield single, took second on a flyout and then third on a groundout before Giansanti continued his hot-hitting ways to put the Smokies ahead with his run-scoring single to right. Giansanti in his last 13 games has recorded 15 hits after collecting a total of 12 in his first 36 contests of 2014.
The M-Braves, however, would surge ahead with a five-spot in the seventh. Kubitza began the rally with an infield bunt single, and then circled the bases on SS Elmer Reyes’ game-tying double down the left field line. RF Derrick Mitchell singled and relief pitcher Ryan Weber then walked to load the bases for 2B Gustavo Nunez, who reached on an infield single and took second on an error, allowing two runs to score on the play. Nunez would later score along with LF Cedric Hunter on Kennelly’s two-run single to center to cap the scoring spurt, with the margin holding until the ninth.
Smokies reliever Armando Rivero (2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 3 SO) earned his second victory of the season after firing the final two shutout frames, yielding just one hit while striking out three, while Ryne Harper suffered the defeat for the M-Braves. Rivero, along with Tennessee relief men Lendy Castillo (2.0 IP, 1 H, 1 BB) and Arodys Vizcaino (1.0 IP, 2 SO) held the Mississippi bats quiet by combining for the last five scoreless frames, allowing a total of only two hits.
Giansanti (3-6, 1 R, 1 RBI), Bruno (3-6, 2 R) and Silva (3-5, 1 R, 2 RBI) all recorded three-hit games in the victory for the Smokies, while Hunter (2-5, 1 R, 1 2B) and Kennelly (2-5, 1 R, 2 RBI) both tallied multi-hit efforts for Mississippi. Tennessee 3B Kris Bryant extended his hit streak to ten, in addition to his on-base streak to 20, with a leadoff single in the fifth and continues to lead the Southern League in ten different offensive categories.
With the first half over, Bryant will be one of four Tennessee players eligible to participate in the 2014 Southern League All-Star Game at AT&T Field in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with pitchers Hunter Cervenka, P.J. Francescon and Armando Rivero also set to represent the club. Bryant is expected to start at third base and bat third for the North Division squad.
Following the game on Tuesday and an off-day on Wednesday, the Smokies return to action on Thursday evening to begin a five-game home series with the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET at Smokies Stadium.
It’s another Thirsty Thursday at the ballpark, meaning drink specials will be available for most of the evening at the ballpark, including one dollar domestic drafts and small sodas. Tickets for that game and all remaining 2014 Smokies home games are still available and can be purchased online atwww.smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at (865) 286-2300.
Listen to Manager Buddy Bailey’s postgame press conference below: