Dominant pitching carries Smokies to fifth straight win

PENSACOLA, Fla. (team release) -- A trio of Smokies pitchers combined to allow just two hits as Tennessee blanked the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, 5-0, on Friday night in front of a capacity crowd of 5,038 at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium.

The win – Tennessee’s fifth straight and seventh in their last eight games – officially eliminates the Blue Wahoos from playoff contention.

Left fielder Rubi Silva led the offensive charge for the Smokies (35-32 second half, 70-67 overall), going 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs.

Tennessee wasted no time opening the scoring. After a Matt Szczur leadoff single and a Logan Watkins double put two runners in scoring position with no outs, Jae-Hoon Ha lifted a sacrifice fly to right to give the Smokies a 1-0 lead.

Meanwhile, Tennessee’s pitching stifled the Blue Wahoos (33-33, 67-68). Chris Rusin started and retired all nine batters he faced over three perfect innings. Nick Struck took over in relief and settled down Pensacola in order in the fourth before running into trouble in the fifth.

With the Blue Wahoos down, 1-0, Beau Mills led off with a triple past diving center fielder Matt Szczur to break up the Smokies’ no-hit bid and put the tying run at third base. After Donald Lutz walked and David Vidal struck out, Brodie Greene grounded to third and Junior Lake made a diving stop, which led to Mills being tagged out in a rundown between third and home. Struck escaped the jam unscathed to preserve the lead.

In the top of the sixth, the Smokies extended their advantage to 4-0 when Silva lifted a three-run homer to left just over the glove of the leaping left fielder Lutz. Silva added an eighth-inning RBI single to put Tennessee up 5-0.

After retiring 12 straight batters, Struck was lifted from the game in the ninth following a two-out walk. Tony Zych took over and gave up a pinch-hit single to Yordanys Perez before recording the final out to seal the 5-0 victory.

Struck (14-10) earned his league-leading 14th win of the season, surrendering just two hits while striking out six batters over 5.2 scoreless frames. No other Southern League pitcher has more than 11 wins. Pensacola starter Daniel Corcino (8-8) suffered the loss after yielding one run on five hits in five innings of work.

In the victory, Szczur turned in a 2-for-5 night at the plate while Justin Bour scored twice and Lake stole two bases.

The Smokies and Blue Wahoos play the middle contest of their five-game series on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET when Tennessee sends left-hander Eric Jokisch (7-2, 2.97 ERA) to the mound against Pensacola southpaw Tony Cingrani (5-3, 2.00 ERA) at Penacola Bayfront Stadium.

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