Harrison Wenson – Picture by Todd Johnson
I did not think about tonight’s winner-take-all game much throughout today other than that I would be watching it. For the players, that was probably not the case. I didn’t even know who was going to be the starting pitcher until about an hour and a half before gametime. When I found out it was the big righty, Chris Clarke, I just nodded my head knowing that Michael Ryan knew what he was doing. With a pitching staff hobbled by injuries, Clarke was the lone right-handed starter still active who had not pitched in this series. It turned out to be a great decision.
Clarke gave the Smokies a chance tonight to reach the Southern League Championship. He went six innings, struck out seven, and gave up one run on five hits. It was a great performance and he avoided his biggest weakness, the big inning. In fact, he pitched out of a jam in the fifth to keep the game tied at that point. When Clarke left after the sixth, the Smokies lead was 2-1.
As for those two runs…
Harrison Wenson got the scoring started in the third when he turned on a pitch and sent it over the left field wall.
Wenson then drew a walk in the fifth and moved to second on a bunt. Wenson came around to score his second run on the night as Jake Slaughter drove him in with a single. That made it 2-1.
The Smokies had a couple of chances to bust the game open after Wenson’s homer in the third and later in the seventh. However, both rallies fell short.
When the bottom of the seventh came, Clarke was out and Samuel Reyes was in. It was not the smoothest inning I have ever seen from a reliever, but it was a scoreless one as we went to the eighth with Tennessee on top.
This is when the night became surreal.
Harrison Wenson went yard again in the eighth to make it 3-1 Smokies!!! I still have a hard team believing he hit 2 HRs in one game, let alone a Division Championship game.
in the bottom of the eighth, Reyes came back out. He got a couple fly outs, gave up a single and then struck out 1 to send to the ninth for whoever the mystery closer was going to be. Would it be Hunter Bigge? Eduarniel Nunez? Michael McAvene?
Welp, apparently all those were wrong as skipper Michael Ryan stuck with Reyes. It was a little head scratching move. After a leadoff single, I was looking for the mound visit that never happened. Well, a strikeout followed by a popup brought up Zach Neto who has been all-world this series with 2 outs. Reyes coaxed a pop out and the Smokies are now off to the Championship series!!!
They face Pensacola starting on Sunday in a best of three series!!!
Congrats to the Smokies!