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2023 Southern League playoffs coverage

Smokies scorch way to first outright championship in 45 years
September 27, 2023

Championship Series Sept. 26

Championship Series

Sept. 26

Smokies 10, Blue Wahoos 3
With Cade Horton on the mound, the Cubs' Double-A affiliate had reason to be confident about their prospects of winning the franchise's first outright Southern League title in 45 years. And once the Tennessee Smokies scored four runs in the first three innings, it felt like that was very much in reach.

Sure enough, the Cubs' second-ranked prospect (MLB No. 29) tossed five one-hit innings and the offense continued to pile it on against Pensacola at Blue Wahoos Stadium to complete a perfect postseason.

"I ain't gonna lie," Smokies manager Kevin Graber said. "When I woke up this morning knowing that Cade Horton was on the mound, I was like 'I think it's going to be a good day.'"

The win produced the club's first outright title since 1978 -- back when the team was called the Knoxville Sox. The Smokies also shared the 2004 crown with the Mobile BayBears due to Hurricane Ivan.

Winning it all this season felt extra special because Tennessee wound up a win short of the championship in 2022, losing to the very same Blue Wahoos in the best-of-3 Finals. Full story

Sept. 24

Smokies 8, Blue Wahoos 4

Cubs prospects shared the workload at the plate and on the mound in the best-of-3 Championship Series opener. Tennessee is a win away from wrapping up its first solo championship since 1978 after the Smokies shared the 2004 title with the Mobile BayBears due to Hurricane Ivan.

Six players registering an RBI for Tennessee. Ezequiel Pagan notched two -- one on a double in the second inning and the other on a sacrifice fly in the third. BJ Murray Jr. tallied an RBI double, a single and scored twice. Chicago's No. 18 prospect's performance boosted his postseason slash line to .400/.500/.500.

Kevin Alcantara (CHC No. 4), Haydn McGeary (CHC No. 17), Pablo Aliendo (CHC No. 27) and Andy Weber knocked in a run apiece.

Righty Brandon Birdsell picked up the win after starting off the game strong. The 2022 fifth-round pick gave up one run on four hits and a walk while striking out five in five innings, and Birdsell hasn't been tagged for more than three runs in his last 13 outings. Porter Hodge (CHC No. 26) followed by fanning two over a hitless frame of relief. and lefty Riley Martin twirled a perfect seventh.

Cody Morissette lofted his second home run of the playoffs, a two-run shot in the ninth, and singled for Pensacola. Nasim Nuñez (MIA No. 18) and Paul McIntosh added runs with a sacrifice fly apiece. Box score


Sept. 21

Blue Wahoos 5, Biscuits 1

Pensacola will look to capture back-to-back championships after sweeping Montgomery in the best-of-3 semifinals.

Starter Patrick Monteverde set the tempo with 6 1/3 scoreless innings. The Marlins' No. 16 prospect scattered five hits and a walk while striking out eight to pick up his 12th win across two levels this season. Monteverde struck out 121 over 122 2/3 innings this season, making two starts for Triple-A Jacksonville and 21 for the Blue Wahoos.

Offensively, contributions were made up and down the lineup with all but two starters notching hits. Pensacola got on the board in the fourth with an RBI double by Jake Thompson and a two-run single from Bennett Hostetler. Paul McIntosh singled in a run in the fifth and Cody Morissette crushed the game’s only homer to right-center field in the seventh.

While the top two Rays prospects -- Junior Caminero and Carson Williams -- went 0-for-7 for Montgomery, Dru Baker ended the shutout bid in the ninth with an RBI double. The 2021 fourth-round pick and Kenny Piper led the Biscuits with two hits apiece. Box score

Smokies 5, Lookouts 1

Tennessee will get the chance to avenge last year's loss to Pensacola in the Championship Series after sweeping Chattanooga in the best-of-3 semifinals.

Kevin Alcántara got the Smokies out to an early lead in the top of the second inning with a three-run dinger to left field. It was the second Double-A homer for the Cubs’ No. 4 prospect (MLB's No. 71 overall) since his Sept. 12 callup. Across three levels during the regular season, Alcántara compiled a slash line of .284/.345/.810 with 13 homers, 71 RBIs and 71 runs scored.

BJ Murray Jr., Chicago's No. 18 prospect, drove in a run while Andy Weber added two hits, an RBI and a run scored for Tennessee.

On the mound, Walker Powell gave up one run on three hits without a walk and six strikeouts over five frames. From there, the bullpen took over as Blake Whitney, Frankie Scalzo Jr., Riley Martin and Hunter Biggs combined to allow two hits and four walks with four strikeouts over the final four innings.

Five Reds prospects combined to strike out 11 for the Lookouts. Righty Sam Benschoter took the loss after giving up four runs in two innings with one whiff. Jake Wong fanned two in three hitless frames and Michael Byrne struck out three and allowed a run in 1 2/3 innings. Jacob Heatherly K'd the first three batters he faced in 1 1/3 perfect frames and Stevie Branche went 1-2-3 with a two strikeouts in the ninth. Box score

Sept. 19

Smokies 3, Lookouts 1
In the first playoff appearance of his pro career, Cade Horton looked the same as he has all year -- dominant.

MLB's No. 29 overall prospect allowed just three hits while striking out seven over five scoreless frames as Tennessee moved within a win of advancing to the Championship Series. It was the third time Horton has logged seven K’s in a game since joining the Smokies.

Horton, who was promoted to Double-A on Aug. 1, struck out five of the first eight batters he faced, including two in a 1-2-3 second inning. The No. 2 Cubs prospect ran into some trouble in the fourth, allowing a walk and a single to open the frame, but escaped unscathed after including a flyout and an inning-ending double play.

The Smokies bats gave the MiLB Pitching Prospect of the Year finalist some run support with a three-run third. BJ Murray Jr. (CHC No. 18) singled home a run and Owen Caissie (CHC No. 3/MLB’s No. 64 prospect) followed with a two-RBI double.

Tennessee center fielder Kevin Alcántara (CHC No. 4/MLB’s No. 71) wowed the crowd when he legged out a seventh-inning liner from Rece Hinds, making a diving catch so emphatic he ended up losing his hat.

Julian Aguiar (CIN No. 21) took the loss, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks while striking out two over six frames. Relievers Brooks Crawford and Jayvien Sandridge each pitched a perfect frame of relief for Chattanooga.

The series moves to Chattanooga on Thursday for Game 2 of the best-of-3 semis. Box score

Blue Wahoos 5, Biscuits 2

Bennett Hostetler put on a one-man power show for Pensacola in Game 1 of the Southern League semifinals.

The Blue Wahoos first baseman lofted two homers and doubled as the Blue Wahoos grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-3 series.

Hostetler came just inches shy of a long ball in his first at-bat, booming a double off the wall in center field in the second inning. Jake Thompson followed with a two-run homer to right.

The wall was unable to contain Hostetler’s next blast, as the 25-year-old scorched a third-inning shot to dead-center. He iced the cake two innings later, sending a towering drive far over the wall.

Nasim Nuñez (Marlins’ No. 18 prospect) also finished with a game-high three hits, while Blue Wahoos starter Luis Palacios held the Biscuits to two runs -- one earned -- over 5 1/3 frames.

Junior Caminero, the Rays’ top prospect, collected two hits while Danny Piper slugged a solo homer for Montgomery.

The Blue Wahoos return home Thursday a win away from punching their ticket to the Finals. Box score