SEVIERVILLE - After spotting the visiting Huntsville Stars a 5-1 lead, the Tennessee Smokies blasted their way back to defeat the Stars 11-6 and take a 2-1 series lead in the North Division playoff series. Gary Cates Jr, Casey McGehee, Issmael Salas, and Eric Patterson all had key home runs to help the Smokies regain and hold onto the lead to seal the victory in front of a an excited crowd of 1,253. The series now moves back to Huntsville for Game 4, with the Smokies needing only one win to advance to the Southern League Championship series.
The situation did not look good to start off for the Smokies, as starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija struggled through the first four innings of work. Samardzija surrendered a solo home run to Alcides Escobar in the first inning, then allowed three more runs to score in the third. To his credit, only one of the first four runs Samardzija allowed were earned, as the Stars jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The Smokies closed the gap to 4-1 thanks to an RBI single by Tyler Colvin, but Huntsville struck back with another run in the fourth to take a 5-1 lead.
The Smokies then began to claw their way back into the game in the bottom of the fifth. With the score still 5-1 in favor of the Stars, Jemel Spearman led off the fifth with a triple and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Patterson. With the score now 5-2 in the sixth, Salas crushed a triple to deep right center field with one out. Cates then blasted a two-run home run down the left field line after nearly hitting one earlier in the game to cut the lead to 5-4 Huntsville.
The bottom of the seventh inning proved to be the pivotal inning. With Patterson on first with one out, McGehee smacked a line drive home run over the left field wall to give the Smokies their first lead of the game at 6-5. Kyle Reynolds then followed with a two-out double to keep the rally alive. Salas then hammered a towering home run to left field to give the Smokies a little breathing room with an 8-5 lead.
After Huntsville cut the lead to 8-6 with a lone run in the top of the eighth, the Smokies put the game out of reach for good. Two consecutive singles by Jorge Cortes and Spearman brought Patterson to the plate, who proceeded to hit a three-run home run to give the Smokies a commanding 11-6 lead going into the ninth. Smokies reliever Geoff Jones came on to pitch a scoreless ninth inning in front of an appreciative crowd.
Matt Avery (1-0) picked up the win tonight pitching one inning of scoreless relief of Samardzija, who gave up five runs through six innings. Jeff Housman (0-1) suffered the loss for Huntsville, surrendering three runs over one inning of work.
Game four of the best of five series will take place in Huntsville on Sunday night beginning at 7:05 pm. If necessary, game five will also take place in Huntsville on Monday night beginning at 8:05 pm. Donnie Veal will take to the hill to close out the series for the Smokies on Sunday night with Lindsay Gulin to start for the Stars.