KODAK – Smokies right fielder Jorge Soler homered for the third consecutive contest and joined shortstop Addison Russell, as well as first baseman Dustin Geiger in recording a two-hit night while the Suns rallied late and held on as Jacksonville toppled Tennessee 6-5 in a series-opening victory on Thursday evening at Smokies Stadium.
The defeat drops the Smokies to a 12-9 record in the second half of the season, and also evens the club’s overall 2014 mark to 45-45. Jacksonville with the victory improved to 11-9 since the midpoint of the campaign, as well as a 47-43 overall tally.
After giving up a four-run deficit, Jacksonville would take back the lead for good with their two-run ninth. After LF Brent Keys reached on a force out and pinch hitter Alex Burg walked, RF Joe Benson slapped a single to center to bring home Keys, while 3B Austin Barnes brought in Burg with an RBI base knock to right to put the road club ahead by two.
The Smokies would threaten in the bottom half of the frame, placing runners at the corners with two out following 2B Elliot Soto’s walk and Russell’s base knock to right to bring up Soler. Soler smashed a hard grounder through the middle to plate Soto and get Tennessee within one.
The rally would come up short, however, as closer Suns Nick Wittgren (1.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO) beared down and notched his 12th save of the season. Jacksonville relief man James Nygren (1.1 IP) earned the victory after his 1.1 perfect frames preceding Wittgren, while Smokies southpaw Hunter Cervenka (1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO) suffered the defeat.
Neither team’s starter factor in the final decisions, with Tennessee’s Matt Loosen (3.0 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 2 SO) yielding four runs on three hits in three frames and Jacksonville lefty Chipper Smith (4.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO) allowing a lone earned run on one hit in four innings.
The Suns got off to a hot start, plating their first two tallies in the opening frame. SS Austin Nola and Keys drew back-to-back walks to begin the game, while C J.T. Realmuto singled to load the bases for 1B Brady Shoemaker, who sent in a run by reaching on a force out to push Jacksonville ahead. A sacrifice fly later in the inning from 3B Austin Barnes would then double the advantage to two.
The Jacksonville lead would once again double in the fourth, courtesy of small ball again. Shoemaker lead off with a free pass and RF Joe Benson was hit by a pitch, with Shoemaker then advancing to third on a flyout prior to coming across on 2B Terrence Dayleg’s run-scoring base hit to left. CF Isaac Galloway subsequently brought in the second score of the fourth with a sacrifice fly to right, making it 4-0 Suns.
Tennessee’s deficit would then be cut in half, once again becoming a two-run ballgame in the fifth. C Luis Flores drew a leadoff base on balls, took second and third on back-to-back base knocks from LF Jonathan Mota and pinch hitter Stephen Bruno, and came plateward on a forceout to get on the board. A wild pitch would then bring home Mota to get the Smokies within two at 4-2.
It would then become a slim one-run deficit in the next frame thanks to Soler’s roundtripper. The solo blast to deep center was his third of the year with the Smokies, and the 11th extra-base hit of 15 total base knocks with the club in 2014.
The comeback would be completed in the seventh thanks to Soto’s clutch hit. Pinch hitter Pin-Chieh Chen started the frame with a triple down the right field line, and then would be sent in when Soto bounced a chopper over the drawn-in infield to nod the contest even at 4-4.
Soler (2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB), Russell (2-5) and Geiger (2-4, 1 2B) led the Smokies offense with two hits each, while no Jacksonville hitters collected a multi-hit effort. The two base knocks for Russell were his first in a Smokies uniform after being acquired by the Cubs organization via a trade from the Oakland Athletics on July 5.
The two clubs are set to continue their five-game series Friday evening, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. for the second game of the set. The Smokies are expected to give the nod to RHP Corey Black (4-5, 2.72), while the Suns are slated to send RHP Jay Rogers (3-2, 4.30) to toe the rubber.
It’s the final Free Ride Friday of the season, presented by Rusty Wallace Honda and Kia, with one lucky fan leaving the stadium with a 2006 Chrysler 300. In addition, the skies will explode with Friday Night Fireworks, presented by Pepsi, Coors Light, the Knoxville News Sentinel, WVLT and WIVK. All Friday night Smokies home contests are presented by Remote Area Medical.
Tickets for that game and the remainder of the Smokies’ 2014 home schedule are still available and can be purchased online atsmokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 286-2300.
Listen to Manager Buddy Bailey’s post game press conference below: