Generals second baseman Stefen Romero’s two-run home run in the 12th inning led Jackson to an 8-6 win over the Jacksonville Suns at Pringles Park.
By Steve Kolbe
The Jacksonville Suns rallied from a five-run deficit, but fell to the Jackson Generals 8-6 when Stefen Romero hit a walk-off two-run home run against A.J. Ramos in the 12th inning on Friday night at Pringles Park. The Suns have dropped three straight, and have fallen two games behind the Montgomery Biscuits in the South Division with three games remaining.
The Suns took the lead in the first inning for the second straight game. Jake Smolinski led off the game against Generals starter James Gillheeney by belting his seventh home run of the season, a blast over the 20-foot high left field wall to put the Suns in front 1-0. Smolinski entered the season with seven career home runs, and he has hit all seven of his round trippers this season in the second half. The Suns fell to 51-24 when scoring the first run of the game.
Suns starter Matthew Neil struck out the first four batters he faced in the game on Friday. In the third, Jesus Sucre reached on a error by third baseman Zack Cox, Nate Tenbrink walked, and Francisco Martinez singled to load the bases. With two outs, Stefen Romero singled to left field with both Sucre and Tenbrink scoring to give the Generals a 2-1 edge. With runners on the corners, Chih-Hsien Chiang hit his first home run in nine games, clearing the bases with a three-run blast to right field to increase the lead to 5-1. All five of the runs in the inning were unearned.
Jackson tacked on a run in the fourth inning, when Joe Dunigan hit his 24th double of the season and scored on a sacrifice fly by Jesus Sucre to make the score 6-1.
Jacksonville began the comeback in the fifth inning against Gillheeney, when Jose Duarte hit his second home run of the season to trim the Generals lead to 6-2. It was Duarte’s first homer since the fourth game of the season, when he belted a pinch-hit two-run home run to give the Suns a 6-5 victory over the Huntsville Stars.
In the sixth inning, Zack Cox walked and Ben Lasater doubled to put runners on second and third. Kyle Jensen then drove in his 78th run of the season with a ground out to inch the Suns closer at 6-3.
The Suns completed the comeback in the seventh inning against reliever Jose Jimenez. Danny Pertusati singled and went to second on a ground out by Duarte. Alfredo Lopez came through with a single back up the middle, with Pertusati scoring from second to cut the lead to 6-4. Jake Smolinski doubled and Chris Gutierrez walked to load the bases with one out. After Zack Cox struck out, Ben Lasater singled to right field, with both Lopez and Smolinski racing home to tie the game 6-6.
Suns closer A.J. Ramos took over on the mound in the ninth inning and was overpowering, striking out seven of the 10 batters he faced going into the bottom of the 12th inning. With one out, Brad Miller singled and set the stage for Stefen Romero, who hit his 11th homer of the season, a two-run shot over the left field wall to hand the Generals an 8-6 walk-off win. It was the third walk-off home run for the Generals this season, and first in over three months with the last one on May 21st off the bat of Francisco Martinez against Mobile.
The Suns have just four wins in their last 13 road games and are 13-19 away from home in the second half. The Generals have the best home record in the league at 43-24, and have won five straight and 10 of their last 12 games at Pringles Park.
Ben Lasater finished 3-for-6 with a pair of RBI, and Jake Smolinski went 3-for-5 with a homer, double, and a single. Smolinski has hit a lead off home run in the first inning twice this season. Stefen Romero finished 3-for-6 and drove in four of the Generals eight runs. Francisco Martinez went 2-for-6 after entering the game with one hit in his previous 20 at-bats.
In his final start of the regular season, Matthew Neil allowed six runs (only one earned) on five hits in 3.2 innings of work. It was his third straight no decision. James Leverton, Collin Cargill, and Grant Dayton combined to toss 4.2 scoreless innings for the Suns. A.J. Ramos (3-3) allowed two runs on two hits in the loss. Ramos recorded seven of the Suns season-high 18 strikeouts. Jacksonville’s previous high for strike outs in a game was 15 on April 12th against Chattanooga.
Generals starter James Gillheeney surrendered three runs on four hits and struck out a season-high 10 batters over 5.2 innings. Mauricio Robles (2-2) allowed just one single in his three innings of work to earn the win.
The Suns trail the Montgomery Biscuits by two games in the South Division with three games remaining in the regular season. The Jackson Generals won the first half in the North Division, and will meet the Chattanooga Lookouts in the playoffs.
The Suns will look to get back into the win column in the middle game of the series on Saturday night, with the first pitch scheduled for 6:05 PM from Pringles Park. LHP Graham Taylor (9-10, 3.95) will make his 26th start of the season for the Suns. Taylor defeated Jackson June 10th at the Baseball Grounds, allowing four hits in 5.0 IP in the Suns 9-0 win over the Generals. LHP Anthony Fernandez (4-3, 3.25) takes the mound for the Jackson.