KODAK, TN - The Mississippi Braves kept pace in the Southern League South first half race with a 3-2 win over the Tennessee Smokies on Thursday night at Smokies Park to open a five-game series.
The Braves (36-30) entered the game with a ½-game deficit behind the Mobile BayBears, but the BayBears won 5-2 in Pensacola to maintain first place with four games left to play in the half.
It was a close game all night, with Mississippi breaking a 2-2 tie in the top of the eighth on a Christian Bethancourt double play. Luis Nunez, who singled to start the frame, came in to score what became the winning run for the Braves.
Cody Martin pitched a gem for the Braves, striking out 11 over 6 1/3 innings. He retired the first 11 men he faced, and didn't allow a run until the seventh, when the Smokies plated two, one earned. Martin's 11 strikeouts fell just three shy of the M-Braves record for most in a game, set at 14 by Tommy Hanson in 2008.
The Braves built a 2-0 lead in the sixth to support Martin. Dan Brewer led off the frame with a double and moved to third with a Martin sacrifice bunt. Phil Gosselin then hit a deep fly ball to left to score Brewer.
A batter later, Christian Bethancourt sent a 1-0 fastball over the centerfield wall for his second home run of the season, putting Mississippi ahead 2-0.
The Smokies came back and plated two in the seventh to tie it. First baseman Ty Wright singled and moved to third on an infield hit by rightfielder Anthony Giansanti. That knock ended Martin's day, and on came Tom Keeling in relief.
Keeling allowed a hit to pinch-hitter Matt Szczur, plating Wright for the first run. Brewer's throw came to third and eluded Salcedo's glove, which moved Szczur up to second. Andrew Russell then came on for the Braves, allowing a groundout to third baseman Jonathan Mota, scoring Giansanti to tie the game 2-2.
Russell (4-1) earned the win in relief, pitching 1 2/3 innings shutout baseball. After the go-ahead run in the eighth, Ryne Harper came on for his fourth save in the ninth.
The Smokies got a good start from Alberto Cabrera, allowing just two runs on five hits in seven innings, striking out seven. Trey McNutt (2-5) took the loss in relief after allowing the go-ahead run in the eighth.
The Braves take another hack at regaining first place on Friday night, facing the Smokies in game two beginning at 6:15 PM CT. Right-hander Mitch Atkins (0-1, 1.13 ERA) faces the Smokies, where he pitched in 2007 and 2008, against left-hander Austin Kirk (0-1, 9.00).
Mississippi Braves (36-30) 3 R 8 H 1 E
Tennessee Smokies (32-33) 2 R 7 H 0 E
W - Russell (4-1)
L - McNutt (2-5)
S - Harper (4)
Time - 2:52 (:20 delay)
Attendance - 2,939
1820 TV Road
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