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Suns rise over Southern League

Jacksonville makes most of four hits in 3-1 win
September 17, 2005
One starting pitcher was virtually untouchable, allowing just two hits. The other danced in and out of trouble, stranding runners left and right.

Funny game, this baseball, because it was the one who seemingly struggled who came away with the win and, as a result, the Jacksonville Suns are Southern League champions.

Jacksonville's Justin Orenduff and two relievers combined to beat the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, 3-1, and win the Southern League title in the fourth game of the best-of-five Championship Series.

It's the Suns' first outright championship since 1996. They also shared the crown in 2001.

"My mentality was if I could go out and give us a chance to win, we were going to pull it out," Orenduff said. "It wasn't easy. They had runners on base. I had to battle."

The Suns managed just two hits against West Tenn starter Carlos Marmol, but both resulted in runs.

James Loney got the Suns on the board with one swing in the top of the second inning. The first baseman took a Marmol offering with one out deep to right field. The mammoth blast, Loney's second in this series, gave Jacksonville a 1-0 lead on its lone hit through the first five innings.

"It's always good to get ahead," catcher Russ Martin said. "It takes the pressure off us and puts it on them."

Marmol didn't help himself with his command. The right-hander walked four and hit a batter to give Jacksonville some opportunities. The Suns weren't able to capitalize until the sixth, when Martin singled home Jon Weber with two out to give Jacksonville a 2-0 lead. The base hit ended Marmol's afternoon after 5 2/3 innings. He allowed just two hits and struck out three, but left on the losing end of the ledger.

Somehow, Orenduff made it stand up. With the exception of a 1-2-3 first, the 2004 draftee dealt with runners on base every inning. The Diamond Jaxx had men at second and third with one out in their half of the second on a Matt Craig double and a two-base error by Justin Ruggiano on Buck Coats' fly ball to left. Orenduff got Jose Reyes looking and second baseman Tony Abreu bailed his pitcher out with a tremendous stop and throw from his knees on a Carlos Rojas smash to end the threat.

West Tenn had another runner in scoring position in the fourth, when Brandon Sing and Coats had back-to-back singles with one out. But Orenduff enticed Reyes to pop up to second and struck out Rojas to finish the inning.

The Diamond Jaxx finally broke through in the sixth when Casey McGehee led off with a double. Orenduff got Craig to pop out to third, but Sing came through with a big RBI double to cut the Suns' lead in half. Lefty reliever Luis Gonzalez came in for Orenduff and got Coats to line out to short, doubling off Sing to end the inning.

"We couldn't get the big hit," West Tenn outfielder Adam Greenberg said. "We had runners in scoring position at times. They seemed to get the big hit when they needed it. We had our chances and played hard. We just didn't win."

Orenduff -- pitching on 11 days' rest -- scattered seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. He didn't hurt himself with any walks while striking out seven. Gonzalez followed with 1 2/3 innings of perfect relief.

"With the long layoff, I was able to get a good feel in the bullpen and it carried over to the mound," Orenduff said. "I made some mistakes early and it led to some runners on base. But I was able to go to my slider and it was there for me. It got me out of a lot of jams."

"He did a tremendous job," Martin added. "Everything came together, especially considering it was his first outing all postseason. For him, get that first inning out of the way, he really settled down. He looked tip-top today."

Jacksonville added an insurance run against reliever David Aardsma in the eighth. After Loney singled with two out, Martin came up with another big hit, a double high off the center-field wall that brought Loney all the way around from first to give the Suns a 3-1 lead.

"I waited for the right time," said Martin, who hit just .214 for the series. "I didn't do anything for three days."

Then it was Jonathan Broxton territory. After a perfect eighth, he gave up a long one-out double to Sing -- who went 3-for-4 -- before getting Coats and pinch-hitter Aaron Sisk to close out the 2005 season.