The Tennessee Smokies took an early 5-1 lead and were able to hold on to defeat the Chattanooga Lookouts in front of 2,497 at Smokies Park Thursday Night, 5-4. With the win, the Smokies have won their last three series and improve their second half record to 29-31, 64-66 overall. Despite the loss, Chattanooga (35-25, 67-61) still holds a 2.5 game lead over the second-place Jackson Generals (six game lead over Tennessee).
The Smokies Park crowd was on the edge of their seats in the top of the ninth. With the score 5-4 and Tennessee closer Frank Batista on the mound, the Lookouts loaded the bases with two outs. After falling behind throwing three straight balls to Nick Buss, Batista fought back to strike Buss out to end the game and secure his league-leading 24th save of the season.
Earlier in the game, the Smokies wasted no time putting runs on board in the bottom of the first. Rubi Silva led inning off with a single and after Jae-Hoon Ha was hit by a pitch, Silva raced home from second on Justin Bour's RBI double to right for his league-leading 109th RBI. Junior Lake gave the Smokies a 3-0 lead with a two-run double to left.
Ahead 3-1, Tennessee plated two more runs off of Chattanooga starter Andres Santiago in the bottom of the second. Mike Brenly got the inning going with a single and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Austin Kirk and a groundout by Silva. Logan Watkins put runners at corners after getting hit by a pitch and then followed Brenly home on Ha's two-run double to deep center to put Tennessee up, 5-1.
Chattanooga would make it a one-run game in the top of the fifth. Following three walks to load the bases, J.T. Wise sent a bases clearing double to left bring the score to 5-4 and knocking Kirk out of the game.
Kirk fought through his 4.2 innings of work in his Smokies Park debut. The southpaw gave up four runs on four hits, walked five and fanned six while not factoring in the decision. The Smokies bullpen was on their game in this one, Trey McNutt (8-8) fired 1.1 perfect innings to earn the win. Brian Schlitter threw two perfect innings of his own, striking out three.
Santiago (0-1) took the loss for the Lookouts allowing five runs on six hits and struck out five.
The Smokies will continue their final homestand of the 2012 regular season with a five-game set with the Mobile BayBears beginning Friday at 7:15 p.m. Tennessee is slated to send right-hander Dallas Beeler (4-7, 4.14) to the mound against Mobile righty Bryan Woodall (4-1, 6.09). The first 1,000 fans into tomorrow's game will receive a free baseball, courtesy of Carson-Newman College. Additionally, it's the final Fireworks Friday, Knoxville Ice Bears Night and the Smokies will also welcome Olympic gold medalist and Lenoir City resident Claire Donahue to Smokies Park for a special guest appearance. For tickets and more information visit www.smokiesbaseball.com or call (865) 286-2300.