Southern League president Don Mincher presents the MVP award to Josh Bell. (Tony Farlow/MiLB.com)
By Josh Rutledge / Special to MLB.com | July 14, 2009 5:25 AM
Dominant pitching propelled the North Division to a 7-0 shutout of the South on Monday night at the Southern League All-Star Game at Regions Park in Birmingham, Ala.
Ten different North pitchers combined for a four-hit shutout, while Chattanooga Lookouts teammates Josh Bell and Andrew Lambo provided more than enough offense to ensure the victory. Following a 2-for-4 night at the plate with a homer, two RBIs and two runs scored, Bell was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
"The atmosphere was great out here and so were the fans," Bell said. "It's a great feeling to go out and get the MVP. I had some knee trouble last year, so to be back out here playing well is a great feeling."
Carolina Mudcats pitcher Travis Wood, who leads the Southern League in wins (eight) and ERA (1.36), got things started for the North with a quick first inning, and the rest of the pitching staff followed his lead. No South Division player passed second base during the game.
"It was a great experience coming here," Wood said. "We just came out and played a good baseball game. All our pitchers went out there, knew what they to do and got it done."
Offensively, the North got on the scoreboard early. In the second inning, West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx first baseman Marshall Hubbard walked with one out. Huntsville Stars second baseman Shane Justis grounded into a fielder's choice, but after another walk to Stars outfielder Drew Anderson, Huntsville catcher Jonathan Lucroy singled to right, plating Justis.
In the third inning, the North added to the lead. Facing Montgomery Biscuits pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, Huntsville center fielder Adam Stern tripled to lead off the inning. Blake Lalli of the Tennessee Smokies followed with a fly ball to deep center field, and Stern tagged up on the play to increase the North's lead to 2-0.
After teammate Andrew Lambo doubled to right field, Josh Bell hit the game's only home run, a blast over the right-field wall.
Following a walk to Marshall Hubbard of the Diamond Jaxx, Hellickson was replaced by Birmingham Barons pitcher Clevelan Santeliz, who retired the next two batters to end the inning.
The rest of the offense for the North came in the fifth inning. Following back-to-back singles by Lambo and Bell, Hubbard singled to right field, scoring Lambo from second base. During the play, Bell advanced to third on an error and later scored on a single by Justis. Hubbard scored the game's final run one batter later on Smokies right fielder Jim Adduci's single to center field.
The closest the South came to scoring was in the bottom of the sixth. Facing Stars pitcher Casey Baron, Mobile BayBears shortstop Pedro Ciriaco hit a sharp grounder to third, but Bell made a diving stop and quickly threw to first for the out.
Mississippi Braves center fielder Matt Young singled to right field in the next at-bat and was followed by the Barons' C.J. Retherford, who blooped a shallow single down the right-field line. Young was thrown out at second base on a sharp throw by Justis.
"We hit a lot of balls hard all game, but we just couldn't find any holes," Birmingham right fielder Stefan Gartrell said. "Sometimes that's just how it goes. That's baseball. They get the credit, though. They came out here and played their butts off. Their pitchers came after us, and their guys were able to find some holes."
In the bottom of the ninth, Tennessee pitcher Brian Schlitter and West Tennessee pitcher Anthony Varvaro were called on to secure the shutout for the North.
Schlitter got two quick outs, and to ensure each pitcher got a chance to play in the game, North Division manager Phil Plantier called on Varvaro to record the final out against Mobile BayBears outfielder Chris Rahl. Varvaro induced a pop fly to right field to end the game.
"The South has been able to put up runs all year, so it's a great feeling to come out here and play with this group of guys and get the shutout," Huntsville pitcher Donovan Hand said, "It's one of the most enjoyable times I've had in baseball."
Josh Rutledge is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.