By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns moved into a tie for first place in the South Division of the Southern League, collecting a season-high 15 hits in an 11-7 win over the Montgomery Biscuits on Monday night at the Baseball Grounds. The Suns began the five game series trailing the Biscuits by four games in the standings.
The Biscuits took the lead in the top of the third inning against Suns starter Brian Flynn. Mark Thomas legged out an infield single to start the inning and went to second on a pass ball. With one out, Hak-Ju Lee singled to left field with Thomas scoring from second to put Montgomery in front 1-0. The Biscuits scored the first run for the second straight game, with Lee providing the RBI both times. After a single by Ty Morrison put runners on first and third, Mikie Mahtook plated Lee from third with a ground out and the Biscuits were up 2-0.
The Suns evened the score 2-2 in the home half of the third against Biscuits starter Matt Buschmann. Donnie Webb walked to set up Jake Smolinski, who hit a two-run home run to left-center. Smolinski entered the season with seven career home runs. He has hit all five of his homers this season in the last 44 games.
The two teams traded runs in the fourth inning. Michael Sheridan drove in a run with a RBI double for the Biscuits in the top half of the inning, and Curt Smith countered with a solo home run for the Suns in the home half. Smith has hit nine home runs this season, with two of them in his last three games in the starting lineup. The Suns have belted at least two home runs in five of the last nine games, and now have a total of 82 round trippers on the season.
Jacksonville batted around in the fifth, scoring five times on four hits to break the game open. Chris Gutierrez and Zach Cox each drove in a run with a single to give the Suns a 5-3 lead. Curt Smith plated two more runs with a double, with both Gutierrez and Cox crossing the plate to increase the advantage to 7-3. An error by third baseman Greg Sexton on a ground ball by Paul Gran then allowed Smith to score for an 8-3 Suns edge.
In the sixth inning, after singles by Jake Jefferies and Jake Smolinski, Zach Cox hit a fly ball with left fielder Shawn O’Malley unable to make the catch by the foul line, going head-over-heels onto the lawn in foul ground, with the ball falling to the ground. The triple drove in both Smolinski and Jefferies to give the Suns a comfortable 10-3 lead.
The Suns and Biscuits again traded runs in the seventh inning. After the Biscuits loaded the bases on three straight singles against Suns reliever Rett Varner, Ty Morrison drove in his 32nd run of the season for Montgomery with a ground out to cut the lead to 10-4. Donnie Webb got the run back for the Suns with a double in the home half of the inning, with Paul Gran scoring to make it 11-4 Jacksonville.
With Jordan Conley on in relief, the Biscuits made it interesting in the eighth. Greg Sexton hit a solo home run and Derek Dietrich smashed a two-run home run to cut the Suns lead to 11-7. After a double by Mark Thomas, left fielder Shawn O’Malley hit a ball deep to right field, with Suns right fielder Danny Pertusati leaping up at the wall to commit highway robbery and deny O’Malley the home run. A.J. Ramos entered the game to record the final out of the eighth inning, and also pitched the ninth.
The Suns and Biscuits combined for 29 hits in the game. 17 of the 18 hitters in the game with the exception of Suns catcher Kyle Skipworth (0-for-5) had at least one hit. The top four batters in the Suns lineup combined to finish 8-for-16 with nine RBI’s and seven runs scored. Eight players in the lineup had at least one of the Suns season-high 15 hits. Curt Smith went 3-for-4 with three RBI’s. Jake Smolinski, Chris Gutierrez, Paul Gran, and Jake Jefferies each had two hits. In his Suns debut, Zach Cox was 2-for-5 with a triple, three RBI’s, and a run scored. Every player in the Biscuits lineup had at least one hit. Mark Thomas, Greg Sexton, Omar Luna, and Michael Sheridan each had a multi-hit game for the Biscuits. Jacksonville has outscored Montgomery 21-8 in the series.
Brian Flynn (2-0) allowed three runs on six hits to win his second straight start. Flynn, a 6-8 left hander, was acquired by the Marlins from the Tigers just before the trade deadline last week. Matt Buschmann (5-7) surrendered eight runs on eight hits in the loss. He shutout the Suns 1-0 on May 11th, allowing just one hit over six innings.
The Suns have won seven straight games at the Baseball grounds, outscoring opponents 41-21. It’s the longest home winning streak for the Suns since May 2-14, 2010, when they also won seven in a row.
The Suns look to take sole possession of first place with a win on Tuesday. Jacksonville hasn’t been alone at the top of the division since May 4th in the first half of the season. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. from the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. LHP Jose Alvarez (4-6, 3.74) takes the mound for the Suns. RHP Nick Barnese (2-0, 4.30) will try to avoid the sweep for the Biscuits.