KODAK, Tenn. (team release) -- With the tying run at first base in the ninth inning, the Tennessee Smokies were able to hold off the Huntsville Stars (23-24, 58-59) and secure a 5-3 victory in front of 2,461 at Smokies Park Thursday night. The win snaps a five-game losing and improves Tennessee to 21-26 in the second half, 56-61 overall.
To start the game, Tennessee scored quickly in the bottom of the first off Huntsville starter Ariel Pena. Leadoff batter Matt Szczur hit the first pitch he saw over the left field fence for his first home run in a Smokies uniform and give the Smokies a 1-0 lead.
In his second major league rehab start for Tennessee, Lendy Castillo worked an inning allowing two hits and a walk then gave way to Nick Stuck, who retired the first six batters he faced before allowing a double to Scooter Gennett, who scored on a Josh Prince double to tie the game at two in the fourth inning.
The Smokies answered right back scoring three times in the fourth. Matt Cerda led off the inning with a walk and two batters later advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Struck. Szczur walked, while Cerda stole third to put runners at the corners with two out. Logan Watkins singled, scoring Cerda, and two throwing errors allowed Szczur to score and Watkins to advance to second. Following a Jae-Hoon Ha walk, Justin Bour drove in Watkins to give the Smokies a 4-1 lead.
The Smokies added an insurance run in the eighth. Nate Samson led off the inning with a pinch-hit single and Watkins and Ha followed with a walks to load the bases with one out. Samson came in to score on a Bour ground out to extend Tennessee’s lead, 5-1.
Huntsville rallied in the ninth off Tennessee closer Frank Batista. The Stars started the frame with three consecutive singles and a one-out fielder’s choice to plate two runs and narrow gap to 5-3. Brian Schlitter (S, 3) came in with two outs and gave up a single to Kentrail Davis to put the tying run at first base. With Davis trying to get into scoring position tried to steal second, but Tennessee catcher Chad Noble made a perfect throw to get Davis and secure the win for Tennessee.
Nick Struck (13-10) worked seven innings in relief to become the Southern League’s first 13-game winner, allowing one run on two hits with one walks and seven strikeouts. Pena (0-1) surrendered four runs over 3.2 innings to take the loss.
The Smokies and Stars will play the middle game of their five-game set on Friday night at 7:15 at Smokies Park. LHP Eric Jokisch (7-2, 3.14) will start for the Smokies and the Stars will counter with RHP Josh Stinson (11-6, 3.28). For tickets and more information visit www.smokiesbaseball.com or call (865) 286-2300.