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Barnes, Rosa move Suns a win from title

Marlins prospects both slug two-run homers in five-run sixth inning
September 11, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- The Jacksonville Suns need just one more victory for their sixth Southern League championship and things couldn't be set up any better for Minor League Baseball's hottest team.

The Suns return to Jacksonville after two victories in Chattanooga and will have Southern League Pitcher of the Year Justin Nicolino on the mound Friday night with a chance to wrap up the best-of-5 Championship Series against the Lookouts.

Jacksonville has 19 victories in its past 22 games after ripping Chattanooga, 12-3, behind two-run homers from second baseman Austin Barnes, first baseman Viosergy Rosa and left fielder Brady Shoemaker on Thursday night at AT&T Field.

"It's a special group of guys and we love playing together," said Barnes, the Marlins' No. 16 prospect. "We got on a roll and we're hopefully riding it all the way."

The Suns have up to three games at Jacksonville's Bragan Field to get the clinching victory, but they will be going for a sweep with Nicolino -- Miami's No. 4 prospect -- taking the mound for Game 3.

"We're not taking anything for granted, but it's always good to have him pitching," Barnes said.

The 22-year-old left-hander, who was 2-1 against Chattanooga this year, won six of his final seven decisions in the regular season. In the penultimate game of the season, he scattered three hits over seven scoreless frames in a key victory over Mobile. Then he beat the BayBears again with a seven-inning outing in Game 3 of the South Division series.

"You don't want to give these guys another chance," Rosa said. "Hopefully we can stick the knife in tomorrow."

Nicolino was 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA and a WHIP of 1.07 -- all Southern League bests. But his most impressive stat might be that he allowed just 20 walks in 170 1/3 innings.

"That guy's the real deal," said Rosa, promoted from Class A Advanced Jupiter in early August. "He's definitely going to give us a good chance to win the ballgame, and hopefully, our bats stay hot."

Barnes and Rosa, who both homered in the five-run sixth inning, had three hits apiece. Rosa and Shoemaker, who went deep in the four-run ninth, each drove in three.

Barnes' no-doubt homer to left field came on the first pitch after Lookouts starter Steve Smith (0-2) hit Austin Nola with two outs. Then Rosa hit a no-doubter himself to field on the first offering from Jarret Martin.

It was Rosa's third homer of the postseason, and he has 10 RBIs in six games.

Center fielder Isaac Galloway added three hits and catcher J.T. Realmuto, the Marlins' No. 7 prospect, reached base five times on four walks, a hit and an error, scoring three runs.

Jacksonville's Jon Link allowed two runs on seven hits over five innings for the win in Game 2. He struck out six and walked one.

The 30-year-old right-hander was making just his fourth appearance for the Suns after being resigned by Miami out of independent ball following an 11-2 campaign with Wichita of the American Association.

Smith was charged with six runs -- five earned -- on seven hits and four walks while striking out three in 5 2/3 innings. He also contributed at the plate in the second, lining an opposite-field two-out single to right to put the Lookouts up, 2-0. Chattanooga's other run came on catcher Chris O'Brien's homer in the ninth.

"A loss is a loss and it takes three wins to win the championship, so we're just going to try to win one game and go from there," Lookouts manager Razor Shines said. "That's our approach and we certainly haven't given up."

It was likely the last home game for the Chattanooga as a Dodgers affiliate and the last under the ownership of Frank Burke, who took over the franchise in 1995 and moved the team from Engel Stadium downtown in 2000 to the hilltop ballpark known as AT&T Field.

The Dodgers are reportedly moving their Double-A affiliation to Tulsa of the Texas League, and Burke is expected to complete the sale of the team after having it on the market for two years.

This is the 14th appearance in the Southern League Championship Series for Jacksonville, which owns five titles. The last came in 2010, when the Suns won for the second straight year.

Chattanooga is in the Championship Series for just the fifth time and first since 1996. The Lookouts only title came in 1988.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to