MIDLAND, Texas -- In a contest featuring the circuit's most productive bats and dominant arms, Corpus Christi Hooks left fielder J.B. Shuck used his glove to steal the spotlight at the Texas League All-Star Game.
Shuck made two fantastic defensive plays Wednesday that helped the South Division secure a 5-4 victory over the North at the midsummer classic at Citibank Ballpark.
With two outs in the top of the ninth inning and the South clinging to a one-run lead, Midland RockHounds closer Jared Lansford gave up consecutive hits to the Wilin Rosario of the Tulsa Drillers and Northwest Arkansas Naturals teammates Clint Robinson and Tim Smith.
When Smith singled to shallow left field, Rosario was waved around third and headed for home. Shuck fielded the ball on one hop and fired a strike to Hooks catcher Lou Santangelo who easily applied the tag to end the late-inning drama.
"I didn't expect him to be headed home, actually," Shuck said. "I knew I was playing shallow and I knew I had a shot at him when I saw him take off. I just let it go."
That wasn't the first time Shuck preserved a slim lead. With a runner on first and none out in the sixth, Curt Smith of the Springfield Cardinals hit what appeared to be at least a sure double to the gap in left-center field. Just when the ball seemed unreachable, Shuck made a late burst, leaped and snared it on the warning track. He nearly got the relay back in time to double up Tim Smith, who'd rounded second and was halfway to third.
"I knew I had a good jump on it and when you're running after one, then you know if you have a chance at it," Shuck said. "It was within reach, so I just jumped and caught it."
Offensively, two representatives of the host Midland RockHounds got the scoring started in the first. Center fielder Archie Gilbert drew a leadoff walk and promptly stole second. After Midland teammate Alex Valdez was hit by a pitch with one out, Matt Clark of the San Antonio Missions came through with a two-out RBI single. Valdez raced home when Frisco's Matt Lawson reached on an infield hit.
The lead did not last long, however, as the North answered with three runs in the second. Robinson homered to lead off the inning, Curt Smith delivered an RBI double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Naturals outfielder Paulo Orlando.
The game's other hero stepped up for the South in the fourth. With two men in scoring position, Missions catcher Luis Martinez hit a sharp line drive to Naturals third baseman Mike Moustakas, who deflected it into left field for a two-run single. Martinez was named the game's MVP.
"It was a total team effort," said South manager Darren Bush of the RockHounds. "Everyone found a way to contribute."
That included Hooks right-hander Jordan Lyles, who tossed a scoreless fourth for the win.
Springfield's Blake King surrendered three runs on two hits and two walks in one inning and was saddled with the loss.