Tennessee plated seven runs in the bottom of the eighth, taking the lead on Lars Anderson's bases-loaded walk, while outfielders Jae-Hoon Ha and Albert Almora each drove in two runs with a double and triple, respectively, to propel the Smokies to a 12-5 victory over the Huntsville Stars in front of 5,652 on Saturday evening at Smokies Stadium.
The win keeps Tennessee at least one game ahead of the Chattanooga Lookouts for first place in the second half North Division standings, and also ups the Smokies' record to 29-26 in that span. Huntsville fell to 25-30 after dropping each of the final four contests in the series to Tennessee.
After making the game all square in the seventh, the Smokies erupted for seven runs in the eighth to power past Huntsville. Anderson broke the draw with his bases-loaded free pass, while Ha and Almora immediately followed with their two-run extra-base hits to start the big inning. The scoring would not end there, however, as SS Addison Russell added to the tally thanks to his run-scoring base hit, and C Taylor Davis capped the seven-run spurt with a RBI single back up the middle.
For the second consecutive contest, the Smokies struck first against the Stars. Russell began the two-out rally with a free pass before scoring on Villanueva's RBI double to left, while Villanueva later came across on Davis' run-scoring base knock to center, pushing the tally to 2-0.
Huntsville, however, would counter with two runs in the third to even the game. CF Erik Komatsu led off the frame with a solo blast to right, his second longball of the season, while SS Nick Shaw subsequently tripled to deep center before being brought in via RF Josh Prince's RBI base hit to right.
The two-run frame snapped a 23-inning scoreless streak set by Smokies hurlers dating back to the second game of the series on Wednesday evening. That stretch marked the longest such streak since August 11-14, 2012, when the club held their opponent scoreless over the same 23.0 frame length.
The draw would not last long though, as Tennessee answered right back thanks to a two-run shot from Davis. Villanueva drew a one-out walk to bring up the Smokies backstop, who smashed the 1-0 offering into the first deck of Calhoun's At The Yard and push the home team ahead 4-2.
The Stars would then take their first lead in the sixth courtesy of their second longball of the night. Prince and 1B Hunter Morris reached with a single and walk, respectively, before both scored on Gimenez's three-run roundtripper to right-center, vaulting Huntsville to a 5-4 advantage.
Tennessee then came right back in the very next frame to erase the deficit in the seventh. Russell reached on a two-out double to right-center just prior to Villanueva's RBI base hit to left, making it a 5-5 score just before the Smokies' seven-run eighth.
Right-handed reliever P.J. Francescon (1.0 IP, 1 SO) earned his team-leading 11th victory of the season with a scoreless eighth frame, while Blake Cooper (1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 SO) tossed 1.2 shutout frames in his Smokies debut after being acquired by the Cubs organization and assigned to the club earlier in the day. Stars relief man Tim Dillard (1.1 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB) suffered the blown save, in addition to his third loss, in the defeat.
Davis (3-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI) led all Smokies batters by driving in four runs in the contest, and joined Villanueva (3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB) and Giansanti (3-3, 1 R, 1 BB) in recording three-hit efforts, while Russell (2-4, 3 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB) collected two base knocks. Prince (3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI) paced Huntsville's order with three hits and Shaw (2-5, 1 R, 1 3B) tallied a multi-hit game as well.
Tennessee now travels to Montgomery for a five-game road trip to face the Montgomery Biscuits, the Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Smokies are slated to give the ball to RHP Felix Pena (1-2, 5.27) in the series opener on Sunday evening, while the Biscuits are scheduled to send RHP Michael Colla (7-11, 4.33). First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m. ET at Riverwalk Stadium.
The Smokies will then return home for their final homestand of the 2014 regular season on Friday, August 22 to start a five-game set with the Jacksonville Suns. First pitch for that evening's matchups is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.
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.