There was no way Corey Thurman was going to let his Huntsville Stars teammates fall into a 0-2 hole in their Southern League first-round playoff series.
Pitching with that mind-set, Thurman combined with two relievers on the third no-hitter in Southern League postseason history Friday as the Stars silenced the Tennessee Smokies, 5-0, in Game 2.
Huntsville was coming off a 6-3 loss in the series opener when Thurman (1-0) took the hill and took command. After walking two of the first four hitters he faced, he set down Issmael Salas on a flyout to begin a string of 16 consecutive batters retired.
"After last night's loss, we knew we couldn't go 0-2 at home," Thurman said. "The thing about everyone here is that no one gets uptight, win or lose. We wanted to send a message that even though we lost last night, we weren't just going to roll over and let them walk over us at home."
Thurman delivered that message convincingly as he matched a season high with seven strikeouts in six innings.
"Luckily, I had real good command of my fastball tonight," Thurman said. "The biggest thing about that was it allowed me to set up all my other pitches -- my changeup, my slider, my curve. I also enjoyed pitching to the home plate umpire, Jason [Bradley]. He definitely called a good game behind the plate, didn't squeeze anybody and kept the game moving."
The 28-year-old right-hander has progressed greatly over the last two seasons, missing nearly all of the 2004 and 2005 campaigns following rotator cuff surgery that robbed him of a high-90s fastball. When he was warming up in the bullpen before the game, Thurman noted that his shoulder felt fairly loose while his delivery was free and easy.
But the biggest key was his ability to maintain focus, despite the efforts of one particular Smokies' fan.
"I think it was either the fourth or fifth inning when I noticed some guy in Tennessee gear behind our dugout," Thurman said. "He was yelling at me, 'Hey Corey' or 'Hey No 37, you got a no-hitter going on! Don't lose it.' It wasn't anything mean or like that, but I tried not to look him in the eye or give him too much attention.
"By the time we went to the six, though, he was cheering for us, so it was all good."
The Stars scored all their runs in the bottom of the sixth. Michael Brantley broke the scoreless deadlock with a bases-loaded, two-run single. Two batters later, pinch-hitter Mike Goetz delivered another two-run single before Steven Sollmann capped the scoring with a fielder's choice.
Brantley went 3-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
Dave Johnson took over for Thurman, who had pitched more than six innings just once this season, striking out three and walking one in two innings. Luis Pena followed with a perfect ninth as the Stars tied the best-of-5 series at 1-1.
It was the first postseason no-hitter in the Southern League
since Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton combined on one for Jacksonville on Sept. 8, 2005 against Birmingham. Greenville's Mike Hostetler went the distance in no-hitting Knoxville on Sept. 8, 1993.
Tyler Colvin was the only batter for the Smokies to reach base more than once as he drew a pair of walks in three trips to the plate.
Tennessee starter Justin Berg (0-1) allowed all five runs -- two earned -- on eight hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six innings in the defeat.
Thurman is confident his teammates will be able to keep the momentum as the series shifts to Tennessee.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to get this feeling going into tomorrow," he said. "I'm confident that our guy, Derek Miller, will be able to continue the good pitching and prove why we were able to win both halves of the season."