By Steve Kolbe
The series finale between the Jacksonville Suns and Mississippi Braves was the last game completed in the first half of the season in the Southern League, with the Braves blanking the Suns 5-0 Sunday night at Trustmark Park. The Suns finished the first half of the season in fourth place in the South Division with a record of 33-37 (14-21 at home; 19-16 on the road).
The Suns have now been held off the scoreboard seven times this season, and were shutout for the third time in the last nine games. On the season, Jacksonville has come up empty five times at the Baseball Grounds, and twice on the road.
The Braves took the lead for good in the third inning against Suns starter Matthew Neil, scoring two runs on three hits. Keenan Wiley led off the inning with a line drive single that hit Neil in the knee. After moving to second base on a ground out, Wiley swiped third for his 10th stolen base of the season. Joe Leonard then singled to right field, with Wiley crossing the plate to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. With two outs, Joe Terdoslavich doubled off the wall in left field, with Leonard rumbling all the way around from first to make the score 2-0 Mississippi.
The Braves added another run in there fourth inning. Jason Christian scratched out an infield single and went to second on a wild pitch by Neil. After Neil retired the next two batters, Keenan Wiley delivered a two out single to left, with Christian scoring to increase the Braves lead to 3-0.
In the fifth inning, Joe Leonard led off with a double to left against Suns reliever Bobby Bramhall, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Joe Terdoslavich to put the Braves up by a comfortable 4-0 margin.
Mississippi tacked on another run in the seventh against Bramhall with a two out rally. Joe Leonard drew a walk, and quickly stole second base. Tim Smith then cashed in with a single up the middle, with Leonard coasting home to make it 5-0. The Braves finished the first half in last place in the South Division with a record of 30-40. Mississippi won a series for just the second time this season at home, taking three of the five games from Jacksonville.
For the Suns, Chris Gutierrez increased his hit streak to 16 games with a single in the first inning. He is batting .350 (21-for-60) during his streak with 14 singles, six doubles, and a home run. The 16-game streak is tied for the longest in the Southern League this season. Pensacola’s Henry Rodriguez had a 16 game streak earlier in the first half. The longest hitting streak in Southern League history is 33 games, set in 1987 by Greg Tubbs of Greenville.
The Suns finished the game with six hit, with Jake Smolinski’s seventh inning double the only hit for extra bases. For the Braves Joe Leonard finished 2-for-3, drove in a run and scored three of the five runs. Joe Terdoslavich and Jason Christian each had two hits for the Braves.
Matthew Neil (1-2) pitched three and two-thirds innings and lost his second straight start. He left the game after being hit for a third time by a ball hit back up the middle. Neil allowed three runs on six hits and walked two batters. Sean Gilmartin (5-6) tossed six innings and allowed just three hits in the win.
With the loss, the Suns missed a chance to join Mobile and Montgomery as the only teams in the league with 20 road wins in the first half. Jacksonville finished 19-16 on the road, with nine of the 19 victories by one run.
The Suns begin the second half of the season against the Tennessee Smokies at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville beginning Thursday June 21st, with the first pitch scheduled for 7:35 p.m.