KODAK – Tennessee second baseman Stephen Bruno and third baseman Christian Villanueva each recorded two hits, drove in two runs, and played a key part in the Smokies’ three-run sixth inning that allowed them to pull away and top the Mississippi Braves 6-3 on Wednesday evening at Smokies Stadium.
The victory as the second straight for the Smokies as they improved to 17-16 in the second half and can clinch a series win tomorrow evening. The Braves dropped to 17-16 since the midpoint of the season, in addition to a 56-46 overall record.
The night also saw the grand opening for Calhoun’s At The Yard at Smokies Stadium, with various dignitaries speaking at a pre-game ceremony before a ribbon-cutting to officially open the newest addition to Smokies Stadium. The premium area in left field will service group outings throughout the season and provide a unique experience at the ballpark.
For the third consecutive contest, Mississippi got ahead early by scoring in the opening frame. 2B Jose Peraza led off with a single to center, and then stole both second and third, before coming across on a fielder’s choice to put the M-Braves ahead.
Yet the Smokies would answer soon in the next inning, plating two tallies. 1B Dustin Geiger and C Taylor Davis each drew free passes to begin the frame, while Pin-Chieh Chen singled to load the bases for CF Jae-Hoon Ha, who bounced a single through the hole between shortstop and third to tie the game. Bruno subsequently slapped a run-scoring base knock to left to give Tennessee the 2-1 advantage.
The margin would then increase to two thanks to another run in the third. SS Jonathan Mota lined a leadoff double to left, before C Taylor Davis followed with a two-bagger of his own to center to drive home Mota and move the Smokies ahead 3-1.
Tennessee would then break things open with a three-run sixth. Ha was hit by a pitch and then scored on Bruno’s RBI triple to center, while Bruno would come home along with Cutler, who drew a walk, on Villanueva’s two-run double that one-hopped the center field wall to make it a 6-1 lead.
Smokies starter Eduardo Figueroa (5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 SO) earned his first victory of the year with the Smokies after allowing the lone earned run on four hits in his five innings of work, while P.J. Francescon (2.0 IP, 1 BB) followed with two hitless frames. Mississippi starter J.R. Graham (1.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB) suffered the defeat to fall to 1-5 on the year, while relief man Jorge Reyes (2.0 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 2 SO) followed with two innings of shutout ball in support of Graham.
Bruno (2-5, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 RBI) and Villanueva (2-5, 2 RBI) led the Smokies with two hits and two RBI each in the contest, while Wren (3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B) recorded a game-high three base knocks along with Peraza’s (2-4, 1 R) two-hit effort. Peraza has enjoyed a strong series against the Smokies, collecting hits in seven of his 13 at bats thus far in the series.
The Smokies have a chance to clinch the series in game four Thursday evening against the Braves, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at Smokies Stadium. Tennessee is expected to give the nod to RHP Pierce Johnson (2-4, 3.35), while Mississippi is scheduled to send RHP Ryan Weber (3-3, 4.38) to the mound.
It’s Coors Light Thirsty Thursday in Kodak, with fans able to take advantage of drink specials throughout the evening at the ballpark. All domestic draft beers, in addition to small Pepsi products, will be available for just one dollar.
Tickets for that game and the remainder of the Smokies’ 2014 home schedule are still available and can be purchased online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 286-2300.
Listen to Manager Buddy Bailey’s post-game press conference below: