By Steve Kolbe
Playing for the final time at the Baseball Grounds in the first half, the Suns were shutout by the Jackson Generals 8-0 on Monday night. The Suns finished the first half of the season with a home record of 14-21. With the win, the Generals clinched their first division championship since 2008 with five games remaining.
Suns starter Matthew Neil retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced in the game, but the Generals took the lead in the fourth inning. Nick Franklin led off with a single, and came around to score on a single by Jesus Sucre and an error by Jake Smolinski to give Jackson a 1-0 lead. Designated hitter Joe Dunigan then belted a two-run home run to increase the lead to 3-0. Dunigan leads the Generals with 10 round trippers this season. With the loss, the Suns fell to 7-29 when allowing the first fun of the game.
In the seventh, the Generals scored a run on an error and another on a two-out double by Chris Pettit to increase the lead to 5-0. The Suns committed three errors on the night, one shy of their season high of four May 13th against Montgomery. It’s the eighth time this season that the Suns have committed three or more errors in a contest.
Jackson against rallied with two outs in the eighth when Chih-Hsien Chiang drove in the sixth run of the game with a single, with Joe Dunigan scoring on the play.
In the ninth inning, Jesus Sucre and Denny Almonte delivered with RBI singles to pad the lead to 8-0. Six different Generals players finished the game with two hits, and seven different players scored at least one run. Jackson has scored at least five runs in a game 23 times this season.
For the Generals, both Chris Pettit and Joe Dunigan drove in two runs and scored twice. For the Suns, Jake Smolinski went 3-for-4 with three singles. Chris Gutierrez doubled in the eighth inning to increase his hit streak to 11 games. He hasn’t gone hitless in a game since May 29th against Mobile.
The Suns were shut down twice in the series by the South League’s top pitching staff. The Generals have a 3.07 ERA and eight shutouts this season. Jackson is the only team in the league that will finish with 20 wins both at home and on the road.
Jacksonville claimed the series by taking three of the five games. The last four games between the two teams were shutouts, with each team winning twice. The Generals have only lost three of their 13 series this season, and two of the losses have been on the road against teams from the South Division.
After earning his first Double-A win in his last start at Pensacola, Matthew Neil (1-1) allowed three runs on three hits in the loss for the Suns. Brandon Maurer (5-1) pitched seven and a-third innings and struck out seven in the win for the Generals. Maurer has won all three of his June starts with a 1.80 ERA, allowing just three runs over 22 innings of work. He also stayed perfect on the road with a record of 3-0 this season.
The Suns begin their final series of the first half on Wednesday night in Mississippi with the first pitch scheduled for 8:00 p.m. The Suns will send RHP Omar Poveda (5-2, 4.34) to the mound for his 12th start of the season. The Braves counter with RHP Zeke Spruill (5-5, 3.74). Jacksonville is 17-13 away from home this season, with nine of the wins by a single run. The Suns have won four of six road series this season.