By Aaron Morse
The Huntsville Stars (12-9, 45-46) struck-out 15 times, but it didn’t matter as they stormed back to defeat the Mississippi Braves (12-9, 42-47) by a final score of 5-4 Thursday night.
With the win, the Stars take over sole possession of first place in the Southern League North Division.
The Braves got on the board with two in the second inning against Stars’ starter Michael Fiers. With one out, Michael Daniel doubled to left. It’d be the theme of the night as the Braves tallied seven doubles in the game. A ground-out moved him to third and Jesus Sucre doubled him home. Pitcher Brandon Beachy helped his own cause with a double of his own, driving in Sucre to make the score 2-0.
Speaking of Beachy, he was lights out, tossing 5 innings, giving up three hits and striking out 13, which is the most K’s any opposing pitcher has accumulated against the Stars this year.
But Huntsville was able to keep things close. In the third, Brett Lawrie led-off with a single to right. One out later, Lawrie swiped second base and advanced to third when Sucre’s throw went into center field. The mistake was costly as Zelous Wheeler hit a routine grounder to short that was enough to score Lawrie and cut the deficit to 2-1.
Unfortunately for the Stars, Mississippi got some insurance in the fourth. It was Daniel getting things started again, this time with a lead-off double. Donell Linares singled to left to move him to third. Sucre followed with a single of his own, driving in Daniel and making the score 3-1. With runners on first and second and nobody out, Beachy was unsuccessful with a sacrifice bunt attempt, as the Stars got the lead runner at third base. Luckily for them, Fiers walked Antoan Richardson to load the bases. A Luis Bolivar ground-out to Green at third plated the Braves’ fourth run of the game.
The newest Star struck back for Huntsville in the bottom of the frame. Chris Nowak drilled a solo homer to make the score 4-2.
Fiers held his own despite his counterpart’s dominance, going five innings, giving up four runs, all earned, on seven hits, walking two and striking out three.
Mississippi’s bullpen proved to be their undoing. Michael Broadway was called upon in the sixth to protect the 4-2 lead. Zelous Wheeler greeted him with a single to left. Drew Anderson grounded out and Wheeler advanced to second on the play. After Nowak walked, Taylor Green came up large with a RBI single to right; Nowak was thrown out at third on the play, but the Stars cut the deficit to 4-3. With two down, Chuck Caufield drilled a double to center, scoring Green and knotting the game at four.
While Mark Willinsky had no trouble in the sixth inning, the same cannot be said for reliever Andre Lamontagne, who walked a tightrope in his two innings of work. The Braves put runners on the corners with only one out, but he got Michael Daniel to fly into a double play to end the seventh. In the eighth, he gave up a lead-off double, yet three ground-outs later he was out of the inning.
The Stars rewarded Lamontagne’s perseverance with the go-ahead run in the eighth against Braves’ reliever Jaye Chapman. Drew Anderson reached on a lead-off base-on-balls and Nowak hit a grounder that bounced off Chapman’s glove, putting runners on first and second. Green hit into a force-out, and the Stars had runners at the corners with only one away. Unfortunately, Caufield struck-out, leaving it up to Dayton Buller. Buller smacked a sharp grounder up the middle that went off the glove of second baseman Eric Duncan for the Braves’ fourth error of the night. The play scored Anderson from third and the Stars had the go-ahead run without tallying a hit.
Jim Henderson worked a perfect ninth for his sixth save of the year and Lamontagne (1-0) picked up his first career double-A victory.
Huntsville looks for their first series sweep of the year Friday night as they send Mark Rogers (4-6, 3.52 ERA) to the mound. Tune in starting at 6:45 p.m. Central Time to the Stars Radio Network. First pitch is at 7 p.m.