Riley Thompson – Picture by Micah Manuel/Tennessee Smokies
Heading into tonight‘s Southern League championship series, Tennessee Smokies would get two opportunities to clinch a title. They could win tonight at home or they could win tomorrow at home. For an organization that had not won a title in 44 years, it was pretty exciting to think that they were 27 outs away from doing so. With Riley Thompson on the mound, who already experienced pitching in the championship game for South Bend back in 2019, I felt pretty good about the Smokies chances especially considering that Pensacola’s best prospect Eury Perez was not going to be on the mound tonight.
The last time I saw Riley pitch in person, he had 10 Ks in 5 innings against Clinton as South Bend won the 2019 Midwest League title. Tonight was pretty much like that night except Thompson gave up 2 hits in 5 innings but did not allow a run in 5 innings. He did walk 2, but was essentially nails as he was in 2019.
When he left the game after the fifth inning, the Smokies had a 1-0 lead from a Zach Davis HBP and a Yonathan Perlaza double. That had been the whole game up to that point. I felt pretty good at that point.
In the sixth, lefty Dalton Stambaugh entered the game for Tennessee. The Blue Wahoos did not take long to change the tenor of the game. Will Banfield led off the sixth with a double and advanced to third on a passed ball with one out. After stranding the runner at third on a groundout, Michael McAvene was called upon to make his Double-A debut. It did not go well. 4 singles and a walk later and it was 4-1 Pensacola. Hunter Bigge was brought in to stop the bleeding. Bigge walked the first guy to load the bases again. Will Banfield, who started the inning, singled to make it 6-1. Another single made it 7-1. Finally, Griffin Conine struck out to end the inning.
“Oof” pretty much sums up that inning. And the game.
For game three, it looks like Ben Brown will be the starter and Tennessee has saved Bailey Horn, Riley Martin, Zac Leigh, and Blake Whitney to come out of the pen. I feel pretty good…again. The offense will need to show up as well. Game time is at 6:15 CST.