With the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the ninth, Smokies first baseman Dustin Geiger lined the game-winning single to center following starting pitcher C.J. Edwards' six shutout innings in Tennessee's 1-0 walk-off shutout victory over the Huntsville Stars on Thursday evening at Smokies Stadium.
The win improved the Smokies' second half record to 27-26, and vaults Tennessee alone into first place after the Jacksonville Suns' victory over the Chattanooga Lookouts. Huntsville fell to 25-28 since the midpoint of the 2014 campaign with the defeat.
After both teams were held scoreless through the first eight and a half innings, the Smokies averted extra-innings by recording their second consecutive walk-off victory. After CF Albert Almora and SS Addison Russell began the frame with back-to-back singles, 3B Christian Villanueva was intentionally walked to load the bases for Geiger. With an extra infielder behind Stars closer David Goforth, Geiger punched the 0-1 on a soft line into center field to plate Almora and give Tennessee the victory.
Smokies starting pitcher C.J. Edwards (6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 SO) spun six shutout innings, though he ultimately did not factor in the decision. The right-hander scattered four hits and only yielded one walk in his third outing back from the Disabled List.
The 22-year-old got help from his defense throughout, allowing the first hitter to reach in each of his final four frames, but only one would make it second. Rally stomping twin-killings in the fourth and sixth frames kept Huntsville off the board, while 3B Hainley Statia was stranded at second following his leadoff double in the fifth.
Excellent fielding was the story of the contest, with several Smokies making turning in web gems. Almora and RF Jae-Hoon Ha robbed base hits with diving catches in the third and fourth innings, respectively, while Villanueva made an excellent barehand play charging in from his position and throwing to first in one motion to finish the eighth.
Stars southpaw Jed Bradley (7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO) performed just as well as Edwards through his seven scoreless innings, allowing six hits and no walks while fanning four. Identical to Tennessee's right-handed starter, Bradley got help from his fielders behind him, with Huntsville turning double plays in the fifth and sixth frames.
Goforth (0.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB) suffered the loss to drop to a 5-4 record this year after surrendering the lone tally, while Smokies closer Frank Batista (1.0 IP) earned his fourth win of 2014 with a perfect ninth frame to keep the game scoreless. Wedged between Edwards and Batista's performances was southpaw Hunter Cervenka (2.0 IP, 1 BB, 1 SO), who tossed two hitless frames of relief, preserving the club's tenth shutout of the year.
On the offensive side, Geiger (2-4, 1 RBI), Almora (2-4, 1 R) and Davis (2-3) all recorded two base hits in the contest to lead the Smokies, while no Huntsville hitters tallied a multi-hit effort. Russell's base knock in the ninth extended his hit streak to eight straight games, while the 20-year-old has also collected at least one hit in 18 of his last 20 matchups dating back to July 24.
The Smokies and Stars are slated to face off again in the fourth game of their series Friday evening, with first scheduled for 7:15 p.m. Tennessee is expected to give the ball to RHP Pierce Johnson (5-4, 2.49), while Huntsville is set to send RHP Austin Ross (0-1, 3.86) to the mound.
Friday night is sure to be a blast at Smokies Stadium with Friday Night Fireworks, presented by Coor's Light, Pepsi, the Knoxville News Sentinel, WVLT and WIVK, immediately following the conclusion of the contest. In addition, all Friday night Smokies home games are presented by Remote Area Medical, the team's charity of choice for the 2014 campaign.
Tickets for that game and the remainder of the Smokies' 2014 home schedule are still available and can be purchased online at smokiesbaseball.com, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 286-2300.