Smokies power past Jacksonville, 9-2

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (release) -- The Tennessee Smokies (14-17, 49-52) launched a trio of home runs as they downed the Jacksonville Suns, 9-2, in the opener of a five-game series on Tuesday night at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

Eric Jokisch earned the win to improve to 6-2, fanning eight batters while allowing one run on four hits in five innings of work. The Smokies are 9-1 when Jokisch starts this season.

The contest got off to an ominous start for Tennessee when Jacksonville’s Jake Smolinski lined Jokisch’s first pitch of the night to center for a leadoff triple. However, Jokisch struck out the side in order to prevent damage. Tennessee threatened in the top of the second, but Greg Rohan was thrown out at home plate trying to score on a Nelson Perez base hit to end the inning.

The Suns (15-16, 48-53) bottom of the second began with a triple as well – this time by Paul Gran – who scored when Donnie Webb laid down a successful safety squeeze bunt to open the scoring. Tennessee would get that run back in the third when Junior Lake lined a solo home run – his fifth blast of the season – to left field to make it a 1-1 game.

That score held until the top of the fifth when Lake would deliver again, doubling home Perez – who led off with a single and stole second – to give Tennessee its first lead of the day, 2-1. The Smokies never trailed after that point.

Tennessee extended its advantage to 4-1 in the top of the sixth when Mike Brenly lifted a towering two-run home run to left off former Smokie James Leverton.

Jacksonville threatened in the bottom of the sixth, but did not score. After Tennessee reliever Brian Schlitter walked a pair of batters with two outs, Jose Duarte singled to center but Jae-Hoon Ha threw to third and gunned down Donnie Webb just before the runner crossed the plate, preserving the Smokies’ three-run lead.

The Smokies tacked on some insurance with four more runs in the eighth to open up an 8-1 lead. With the bases loaded and no outs, Brenly grounded to short and two runs scored on a ball that was ruled an error and a force out. Perez followed with an RBI double into the right field corner to make it a 7-1 game and, two batters later, Logan Watkins plated Perez with a base hit to left.

After the Suns plated a run in the eighth when Jeff Dominguez doubled and later scored on a throwing error, the Smokies retaliated when Rohan homered to left to put Tennessee on top, 9-2.

Jacksonville starter Matt Neil (1-6) suffered the loss despite surrendering just two runs on six hits with eight strikeouts over five frames.

Four Smokies recorded multiple hits with Perez finishing 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Brenly homered, scored twice, and drove in two runs in a 1-for-5 outing. Rohan went 2-for-5 with a home run, a double, two runs scored, and an RBI.

The Smokies and Suns play game two of their five-game series on Wednesday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. when Tennessee sends right-hander Dae-Eun Rhee (6-5, 5.08 ERA) to the mound against Jacksonville righty Bryan Evans (3-6, 3.99 ERA) at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

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