By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns finished the first half of the season 14-21 at home, and began the second half of the season falling to the Tennessee Smokies 3-1 on Thursday night at the Baseball Grounds.
The Suns scored their only run of the night in the first inning, when Jake Smolinski hit his first home run of the season off Smokies starter Nick Struck to put Jacksonville in front 1-0. The Suns have scored at least one run in the first inning 19 times this season, and now have a record of 15-4 when crossing the plate in the first.
The Smokies grabbed the lead in the third inning against Suns starter Omar Poveda. Logan Watkins led off with a single, and Junior Lake singled behind him. With one out, Justin Bour singled to right field with Watkins scoring to tie the game 1-1. Bour leads the Southern League with 53 runs batted in. Nelson Perez then put the Smokies in front with a sacrifice fly to center field, with Lake cruising home to give the Smokies a 2-1 edge.
Tennessee added another run in the fourth inning when Matthew Cerda led off with a single, and later scored on a Logan Watkins RBI single to increase the advantage to 3-1.
For the Suns, shortstop Chris Gutierrez went 0-for-4 and his hit streak came to an end at 16 games. It’s the first time since May 30th that Gutierrez has been held without a hit. For the Smokies, Junior Lake went 4-for-5 with three singles and a double. It was his first four-hit game of the season.
Suns starter Omar Poveda (6-3) pitched six innings, allowing three runs on nine hits. The Smokies had at least one in every inning in the game except the sixth. Nick Struck (8-6) tossed six innings in the win, and is one of just three Souther League pitchers this season with eight victories. He allowed just two hits, a single and the solo home run to Smolinski. Marcus Hatley earned his third save of the season.
Game two of the series is set for Friday with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. LHP Jose Alvarez (1-4, 4.66) takes the mound for the Suns. RHP Dae-Eun Rhee (4-2, 5.29) will get the start for the Smokies.