Reflections from the Booth – 2014 Champions

Suns manager Andy Barkett with Roger Hoover following the presentation of the Billy Hitchcock Trophy. Photo Courtesy: Roger C. Hoover.

By Roger Hoover / Jacksonville Suns

Southern League Champions. I can’t believe it.

Southern League Champions. I can’t believe it.

Southern League Champions. I can’t believe it.

In the hours after the Jacksonville Suns completed their sweep of the Chattanooga Lookouts in the 2014 Southern League Championship Series, those two phrases kept echoing in my mind.

Southern League Champions. I can’t believe it.

Now here we are over a month removed from the last out of Game Three, and it’s starting to sink in that the Suns completed their goal of bringing a championship back to Jacksonville.

This was a year that going into the season I thought the Suns had an excellent chance to win a Southern League title. There were also high hopes with the 2013 ball club, however despite the wealth of prospects the Suns came up a game shy of making it to the postseason.

2014 looked to be different, especially with a pitching staff that I told a crowd at the Jacksonville Landing at the preseason party would be the “best in Minor League Baseball.” On paper that was accurate, with all five starting pitchers ranked among the top 16 prospects in the Marlins organization according to Baseball America, and a bullpen that featured talent plus previous Southern League experience.

However as it turned out, the young pitching staff had its ups and downs during April and May. Anthony DeSclafani and Andrew Heaney shined on the mound for the Suns, ultimately earning call-ups and spending the rest of the season in New Orleans or Miami.

Angel Sanchez had a very rough go of it into June before he was claimed off waivers by the Rays, and the Suns were left with only Jose Urena and Justin Nicolino as the remaining Opening Day rotation members to still be with the Suns going into the second half.

It was a blessing those two stayed in Jacksonville for the rest of the year. While Nicolino’s 14-4 year with a 2.64 ERA earned him Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher honors, Urena likely was the second-best pitcher in the league, going 13-8 with a 3.33 ERA. Add in contributions from starters Chipper Smith, Jay Rogers, the Suns continued competing for a Second Half South Division title into August.

The Suns were on fire heading into their only series of the Second Half between Jacksonville and Mississippi. The Suns entered the five-game set at Bragan Field up two games on the Braves, only to see Mississippi take four of five games to have the standings all even on August 10. The Braves series was gut wrenching, including the last game where the Suns lost a late lead to fall 4-3.

The Suns then lost a series on the road to Chattanooga, before taking care of the Blue Wahoos one last time at Bragan Field, taking three out of five games. After the last game against the Blue Wahoos, the Suns bused through the night north to Kodak, Tennessee where the Tennessee Smokies were waiting for a crucial five game series. The Smokies were also in a pennant race with the surging Chattanooga Lookouts for the Second Half North Division crown, yet from night one in Tennessee it was clear the Suns were on their way to greatness.

The Suns won the first contest 18-1 and had a 7-0 lead on Tennessee in the bottom of the first when the first out was recorded. Jacksonville also led 16-0 in the middle of the fourth, and that game on August 22 is the one I’ll always come back to when I think about Jacksonville’s postseason push. That night a tired Suns team went to a unfriendly territory and carried the fight right to the Smokies and in turn, the rest of the Southern League South Division.

The positive momentum carried into the next night, where the Suns came from behind in the seventh inning, not necisarrily due to hits, but walks from Tennessee pitching paved the way for a seven-run seventh inning as the Suns won 15-7. The next day? Another comeback that featured a six-run fourth inning to get a 9-7 win. Contributions for the Suns offense came all across the lineup, from homers by Joe Benson to key RBI singles and doubles for the likes of Terrence Dayleg and Issac Galloway. After the Suns won a pitchers duel 2-1 behind the brilliance of Nicolino on August 25, the Smokies looked like they had avoided a sweep on the final night of the series. Tennessee led 5-3 going into the top of the ninth, yet Tennessee closer Frank Batista blew a save as Dayleg hit a two-run double to tie the game, and with two outs Danny Black’s RBI single was the difference as the Suns won 6-5.

Despite the wins in Tennessee, that series also saw a good deal of frustration around the Suns since Jacksonville was not gaining ground on Mississippi, as the Braves swept their series against the Birmingham Barons, keeping Mississippi in front by a game.

That set up the final series of the year, playing five games in four days against Mobile thanks to Saturday’s doubleheader. The Suns continued taking care of business, seeing the pitching staff shut down a potent BayBears offense, and the winning ways continued for Jacksonville through the fourth game of the series. The Suns had won nine games in a row and thanks to a pair of Braves losses against Huntsville, the Labor Day game against Mobile presented the Suns with the same scenario as the year before – win and you’re in the playoffs. However there was no margin for error, since the Braves owned the tiebreaker a Suns loss and a Braves win meant that Mississippi, who ended up with the league’s best record, would be postseason bound.

The Suns built an early lead before Brady Shoemaker’s three-run homer in the fifth inning gave Jacksonville a 5-2 lead. In the seventh inning Viosergy Rosa smashed a solo homer that looked to be an exclamation point to a clinching win, as the Suns went ahead 6-3. However things got interesting in the top of the ninth, as the BayBears scored two runs on Brandon Drury double that came just a few feet shy of a grand slam home run that would’ve given Mobile the lead. Yet Nick Wittgren forced Dustin Martin to ground out to short to secure Jacksonville’s 2014 Second Half South Division Championship.

The Suns had a great champagne celebration on the field and in the clubhouse, and long after fans left Bragan Field on that perfect Monday, the ball club, led by ace Justin Nicolino, took a victory lap around the bases. Baseball is a game that brings the little kid out in everyone, and as I watched from the radio booth at these guys running around the field, I knew that this group was special and that the playoffs wouldn’t faze the Suns.

As the South Division Championship Series started in Mobile even adversity and a late deficit didn’t faze them. In Game One, trailing 4-3 with Mobile’s closer on the mound in the top of the ninth inning, a pinch-hit single by Ryan Rieger put a man on base and then with two outs, Austin Barnes continued his home run tear from the regular season as he clobbered a two-run dinger over the left field wall at Hank Aaron Stadium to put the Suns up 5-4, which would be the final score. The Suns blew a late lead the next night in Game Two, and missed several opportunities to win in extra innings as the BayBears ended the Jacksonville winning streak with a 4-3 win in extra innings.

After a long bus ride through the night to Jacksonville, the Suns bats came alive in Game Three’s second inning, with the Suns hitting back-to-back-to-back homers by Viosergy Rosa, Brady Shoemaker, and Joe Benson to give Justin Nicolino all the run support he needed as the Suns won 7-5. The Suns looked poise to clinch the next night in Game Four, yet despite having a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning, Mother Nature had other ideas. A huge rainstorm at Bragan Field forced the Suns and BayBears to wait over two hours before the game was suspended and picked up the next Monday at noon. The layoff didn’t hurt the Suns, who scored five runs in the Monday portion to clinch the South Division title with a 9-1 win. The weary Suns didn’t have a champagne celebration after this series, with manager Andy Barkett saying the time to do that would be a few nights later.

The Suns travelled to Chattanooga to face the Lookouts in the Southern League Championship Series. While the Suns under the Marlins had already won two titles in 2009 and 2010 and had five Southern League crowns overall, the Lookouts had not won a league championship since 1988 and were in the championship series for the first time since they lost to the Suns in 1996.

Jacksonville took the first contest 5-3 behind five runs in the first two innings of the game combined with brilliant pitching from Urena. The Chattanooga portion of the series came to a close in Game Two with the Suns winning a blowout 12-3. The series shifted back to Jacksonville on Friday September 12, and Viosergy Rosa continued his terrific postseason with a first inning three-run homer that proved to be plenty of run support for Justin Nicolino.

The ace didn’t allow any runs during his time on the mound, and when he was taken out of the game in the seventh inning he received a lengthy standing ovation from the loud Bragan Field crowd and he tipped his cap to them as well. Of all the moments that night and in the incredible run the Suns had, that’s the moment I’ll always have as my favorite. Nicolino, who loved pitching in Jacksonville and close to his home of Orlando, was recognized by the fans for the greatness that he displayed all year long; and it’s a moment that will live in Jacksonville baseball history forever.

Despite the Lookouts grabbing a run in the top of the ninth, Matt Ramsey forced Darnell Sweeney to ground out to second base to end the season as the Suns swept the Lookouts to claim their sixth Southern League title, and their third as a Miami Marlins affiliate.

I hustled down to the field for the Billy Hitchcock Trophy presentation along with Rosa being named the SLCS Most Valuable Player, and we did interviews in the clubhouse during the celebration and what a party it was. Everyone got a champagne or beer shower by the players, and Andy Barkett gave a great speech where he informed J.T. Realmuto that the Suns catcher was heading back to the big leagues with the Marlins.

After we said our goodbyes on the Suns Baseball Network and the celebration continued through the next several days, I kept going back to those two phrases over and over again.

Southern League Champions. I can’t believe it.

Broadcasting in the Southern League previously with the Tennessee Smokies I saw Tennessee come up just short in the championship series, twice to the Suns and once to Mobile, and all of those losses were heartbreaking. The 2013 Suns will always be one of my favorite teams, and the heartbreak was just as tough when the season ended on the final day of the year, one game short of the playoffs.

So I was skeptical during the season whether or not this would be the team that collects a title, but my thoughts changed once I saw the Suns stomp the Smokies in that first inning the first night in Tennessee. Little did I know that would be the beginning of a stretch that saw the Suns win 11 games in a row and finish the year on a 16-1 run, but everything changed with that game.

I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact the Suns were Second Half champs when we were right in the thick of the SDCS, then the Suns won that, and the SLCS went by very quickly in the sweep, so it was a mind-blowing experience.

Now more than a month removed from the title it’s finally sunk in that the Suns are the champs, and I know when I see that championship ring it will really sink in. Broadcasting baseball on the radio is my love and getting to broadcast winning baseball and the thrills of a pennant race and postseason was a blast for me along with Suns Baseball Network colleagues Michael West and Jason Patterson.

Now that I’ve shared a lot of my memories from Jacksonville’s run to a championship, we’ll be hearing from players and coaches about what they recall from this 2014 season, and we look forward to bringing you their stories here.

Thanks for taking a look at this long read, and yes:

Southern League Champions. Alright, I believe it!

#MarlinsMonday – October 20, 2014

Has it really been over a month since the Suns won the 2014 Southern League title? Photo Courtesy: Roger C. Hoover / Jacksonville Suns

By Roger Hoover / Jacksonville Suns

Hello Suns fans! I hope the offseason is treating all of you well, it seems like just yesterday we were all at Bragan Field on September 12 celebrating Jacksonville’s 2014 Southern League championship!

As the major league season comes to a close this week with the start of the World Series, it’s time to begin our true offseason coverage of Suns baseball. Here on Tales From Bragan Field and jaxsuns.com you will find one of a kind content that focuses on the Miami Marlins organization and the Jacksonville Suns.

Each Monday on the blog will be a #MarlinsMonday where we will take a look at Marlins news from the weekend and set the agenda for the week as the Marlins heat up baseball’s “Hot Stove.”

On Friday we will also take a look around the organization with #FishFriday where we view the news from the week and preview any possible moves or news coming up for the weekend. Similar to previous news links posts, we will explore Marlins stories along with a few stories from MiLB and MLB that are relevant to that day’s baseball conversation.

Wednesdays will be feature day on both here and jaxsuns.com. We will revive last year’s popular “My Season as a Sun” series, speaking with 2014 Suns players and coaches in a Q&A format about what made this past year so special. There will also be special looks at what’s going on behind-the-scenes in Jacksonville as the Suns staff gears up for the 2015 season.

There will be other features and stories as news breaks in the offseason, but this is the coverage you can expect from here until the start of Spring Training next February! Thanks for your continued support of the Suns, we’re getting closer to Opening Day 2015!

Here’s today’s first round of #MarlinsMonday links:

Marlins.com: Miami’s next challenge: Finding 10 more wins
Marlins.com: Inbox: When will Stanton talks begin?
Miami Herald: Miami Marlins get dumber, lose Ed Lucas on waiver claim to Rangers
Sun Sentinel: Broward well represented in World Series with Morse, Hosmer
Fish Stripes: Nicolino and the concern over prospect strikeouts
MiLB.com: Dodgers’ Schebler clubs first Fall League homer
Yahoo! Big League Stew: World Series preview: Royals and Giants put postseason streaks on line in battle for crown
Fox Sports: Listen to Russ Hodges call Ishikawa’s home run for Giant
SportsonEarth: The Odd Couple

2014 Former Suns MLB Postseason Guide

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By Roger Hoover / Jacksonville Suns

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Suns have a rich tradition of sending talented players to the major leagues. This season several former Suns will continue to play beyond the regular season, as the MLB postseason begins in earnest tonight, with the American League Divisional Series starting followed by the National League Divisional Series on Friday. After the National and American League Championship Series, the World Series will begin on Tues., Oct. 21.

Below is a guide to watching former Suns in the postseason, and be sure to check Jacksonville’s Facebook and Twitter pages to keep up with how these former Suns do as baseball moves along in October.

American League

Kansas City Royals

Jason Frasor (2003). Originally drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 33rd round of the 1999 draft, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002. In his first year in the organization in 2003, Frasor pitched for the Suns in the first year at the Baseball Grounds. It was Frasor’s first year as a relief pitcher, and with the Suns he pitched in 35 games getting 17 saves while going 1-0 with a 2.95 ERA. He was traded the next season to the Blue Jays organization, and made his major league debut in Toronto during the 2006 season.

After pitching with the Blue Jays from 2006-2011, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2011, then traded back to the Blue Jays in 2012. Last season he signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers, then this year in July he was traded by the Rangers to the Royals. To finish the year with the Royals, Frasor was 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in 23 appearances, helping Kansas City to its first postseason berth since 1985. The Royals face the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Division Series.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

No former Jacksonville Suns are on the Angels’ postseason roster.

Detroit Tigers

Anibal Sanchez (2009) Sanchez began his career in the Boston Red Sox system before being traded to the Marlins in a deal that sent big pieces Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Fenway Park in the post-2005 offeseason. Sanchez made pitched in the Southern League in 2006 with the Carolina Mudcats while they were a Marlins affiliate, going 3-6 with a 3.15 ERA in 15 starts. Sanchez joined the big league Marlins later that season, tossing a no-hitter on September 6, 2006 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Sanchez would see time in a Suns uniform in 2009, making two rehab starts with Jacksonville during the first year of the Suns/Marlins affiliation.

Sanchez was traded to the Tigers on July 23, 2012 and finished the year as a member of the Detroit rotation. Sanchez pitched through the postseason for Detroit, going 1-2 with a 1.77 ERA and his most notable performance was a seven-inning three hit shutout performance against the New York Yankees in Game Two of the 2012 ALCS. In 2013 year Sanchez has set a career-high in victories going 14-8 with a career-best 2.57 ERA in 29 starts.

This season Sanchez has battled injuries, going 8-5 with a 3.43 ERA in 21 starts. The Tigers will face the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Division Series.

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Baltimore Orioles

Andrew Miller (2009-10). Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the first round of the 2006 draft out of the University of North Carolina, Miller was involved in one of the biggest trades in Marlins history. After brief major league time in 2006 and 2007, prior to the 2008 season the Marlins acquired him along with Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin and Mike Rabelo for established stars Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera.

Miller first made it to Jacksonville in 2009, pitching in one game in May, but the majority of the 2010 season saw the prospect in a Suns uniform. In 2010 he went 1-8 with a 6.01 ERA in 18 starts. Despite his Southern League struggles, Miller made finished the season with the Marlins, going 1-5 with a 8.54 ERA.

The Marlins traded Miller to the Boston Red Sox for Dustin Richardson prior to the 2011 season, and remained at Fenway Park until the 2014 trade deadline when he was sent to the Orioles. Miller pitched well with Baltimore to close the season, going 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA with a save in 23 apperances. The Orioles will face the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.

National League

San Francisco Giants

No former Jacksonville Suns are on the Giants’ postseason roster.

St. Louis Cardinals

No former Jacksonville Suns are on the Cardinals’ postseason roster.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw (2007-08) A first round selection (sixth overall) by the Dodgers in 2006, Kershaw rose quickly throughout the L.A. system reaching Double-A Jacksonville just a year later in 2007. That season Kershaw made five starts for the Suns, going 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA. In 2008 Kershaw began the season as the Suns’ ace, going 2-3 with a 1.91 ERA in 13 games and 11 starts in a Jacksonville uniform. Kershaw earned his first call-up to the big leagues on May 28 before being sent back Jacksonville, then he joined the Dodgers for good on July 22, 2008.

Since that point, Kershaw has been a four-time National League All-Star (2011-14), the 2011 and 2013 N.L. Cy Young Award Winner, a two-time N.L. strikeout champion (2011, 2013), and three-time N.L. ERA champion (2011-13). This season may have Been Kershaw’s best, going 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA, and is likely going to win his third Cy Young Award, and there is also consideration he will be the National League Most Valuable Player. Kershaw led the National League in ERA, ERA+, winning percentage, WHIP, strikeouts per nine innings, complete games, and wins above replacement for both pitchers and all players in the N.L.

The Dodgers will face the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.

A.J. Ellis (2006-07): Kershaw’s catcher in the big leagues also saw time in Jacksonville during the mid-2000s in Ellis. He was selected by L.A. in the 18th round of the 2003 draft out of Austin Peay. The first action for Ellis in a Suns uniform came in 2006, playing in 82 games and hitting .250 with 21 RBI and no homers. A year later he was back in Jacksonville, spending the entire year with the Suns. That season saw Ellis raise his batting average to .269 with eight homers and 57 RBI.

Ellis made it to the big leagues first in 2008 with the Dodgers, but developed into the role of regular L.A. catcher in 2012. Ellis was behind the plate in 93 games this year for L.A., hitting .191 with three homers and 25 RBI, but continued to be the heart and soul of the club as the defensive catcher.

Matt Kemp (2006) A sixth round selection by the Dodgers in 2004, Matt Kemp made the jump to Double-A in 2006 with the Suns. Beginning the year with Jacksonville, Kemp put up solid numbers, hitting .327 with seven homers and 34 RBI in 48 games before his first call-up to Los Angels on May 28, 2006. That would be Kemp’s only time with the Suns, and he became a major league regular in 2008.

Kemp has been a two-time National League All-Star, led the National League in home runs and RBI in 2011 and has also won a pair of Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards.

This season “The Bison” has battled injuries in spring training, yet went on to play 150 games for the Dodgers this year. He hit .287 with 25 homer and 89 RBI, and was the National League Player of the Month for September after hitting .322 with nine homers and 25 RBI as the Dodgers clinched the N.L. Western Division title.

Washington Nationals

No former Jacksonville Suns are on the Nationals’ postseason roster.

For the latest Suns news this offseason, fans are encouraged to visit www.jaxsuns.com and can keep up with the Jacksonville Suns on the club’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram social media platforms, as well as the “Tales from Bragan Field” blog: www.sunsradio.com.

-SUNS-

Realmuto and Nicolino 2014 Marlins Minor League Award Winners

Realmuto and Nicolino were part of the celebration on Saturday as the Suns won the 2014 Southern League title. Photo Courtesy: Jay Metz

Realmuto and Nicolino were part of the celebration on Saturday as the Suns won the 2014 Southern League title. Photo Courtesy: Jay Metz

By Roger Hoover / Jacksonville Suns

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Suns catcher J.T. Realmuto and left-handed pitcher Justin Nicolino were named the 2014 Miami Marlins Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year respectively, announced by Marlins’ Vice President of Player Development Marty Scott on Monday.

The batterymates were key contributors to Jacksonville’s run to a Southern League Championship this season. The Suns won their final 10 games of the regular season to claim the South Division second-half title and qualify for the playoffs, where they went 6-1. It was the third Southern League Championship for Jacksonville since becoming a Marlins’ affiliate in 2009 (also, 2009 & 2010).

Realmuto, also a 2014 Southern League Postseason All-Star, played in 97 games this season with the Suns and hit .299 with eight home runs and 62 RBI. Realmuto also hit .346 (9-for-26) in the postseason with three RBI and drew eight walks in seven games to help a robust .500 on-base percentage. After the Suns clinched the Southern League title on Saturday, Realmuto was informed in the clubhouse that he had earned his third promotion of the season to the major leagues with the Marlins.

Realmuto spent the entire 2013 season in Jacksonville, where he earned Southern League Midseason All-Star honors and played in the 2013 Southern League All-Star Game in Jacksonville. In 2012 Realmuto earned Florida State League Midseason All-Star honors with the Jupiter Hammerheads. Realmuto was selected by the Marlins in the third round of the 2010 draft out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Coming into this season Realmuto was listed by Baseball America as the Marlins No. 10 prospect, as well as the “best defensive catcher” in the Miami organization.

In 27 starts this season for the Suns, Nicolino went 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 170 and a third innings pitched. Nicolino led the Southern League in wins with 14, and his ERA of 2.85 gave him the league ERA title. Nicolino was dominant in the postseason, going 2-0 with a 1.98 ERA (3 ER in 13.2 IP) in his two starts, and earned the victory in the clinching game of the 2014 Southern League Championship Series with six and two-thirds scoreless innings of work against Chattanooga last Saturday.

The award adds to the list of accolades for Baseball America’s No. 4 Marlins prospect Nicolino, who earlier this season was named a Southern League Midseason All-Star, and the league also announced him the “Most Outstanding Pitcher” in the Southern League this season. The postseason Southern League All-Star honor is the fourth time in his four-year career. Nicolino was also twice named a Southern League pitcher of the Week on June 23 and August 4.

In 2013 Nicolino was a Florida State League Midseason and Postseason All-Star, as well as the Florida State League Pitcher of the Year. In 2012 Nicolino was a Midwest League Midseason and Postseason All-Star, as well as the TOPPS Midwest League Pitcher of the Year. In his first full professional season in 2011 Nicolino was a Northwest League Postseason All-Star, as well as a Baseball America Short Season All-Star.

Nicolino was originally selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second round of the 2010 draft out of University High School in Orlando, Florida. He was acquired by the Marlins organization following the 2012 season in a 12-player trade with the Blue Jays.

Suns Win 6-1 In Game Three To Earn Sixth SL Title In Franchise History

JACKSONVILLE, FL – Early offense and a brilliant outing from Justin Nicolino lifted the Jacksonville Suns (6-1) past the Chattanooga Lookouts (3-5) by a 6-1 final in game three of the Southern League Championship Series on Friday from Bragan Field, completing a three-game sweep to give the Suns their sixth Southern League Championship in franchise history.

Justin Nicolino (W, 2-0) earned the win for Jacksonville after holding the Lookouts scoreless on seven hits in 6.2 brilliant innings of work, walking two batters and striking out three in his winning effort.

Reid Redman retired all four batters he faced in 1.1 hitless innings, collecting three strikeouts in his relief effort.

Matt Ramsey allowed one run (earned) on two hits with one strikeout in his one inning of work to finish off the ballgame in a non-save situation.

Jeremy Kehrt took the loss for Chattanooga after allowing three runs (all earned) on five hits with a walk and a strikeout in 2.1 innings of work.

The Suns did not wait long to get on the scoreboard on Friday night, scoring three times in the bottom of the first. Viosergy Rosa (HR, 4) cranked a three-run home run over the wall in right to give Jacksonville a 3-0 lead after the first inning of play.

That score held until the Suns added to their advantage with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. An Austin Barnes RBI double followed later by a Viosergy Rosa RBI single put the Suns in front by a 5-0 score after five innings.

Jacksonville furthered their lead with a run in the bottom of the sixth, as Isaac Galloway scored on Austin Nola’s two-out RBI double to make it a 6-0 Suns edge after six innings.

The Lookouts broke up the shutout after Jeremy Hazelbaker’s pinch-hit sacrifice fly cut the Suns’ lead to 6-1 and capped off the scoring in game three.

With the win, the Suns have earned the sixth Southern League Championship in their franchise history, and the team’s first league title since 2010.

First baseman Viosergy Rosa was named the MVP of the Southern League Championship Series.

Including the postseason, the Suns won 16 of their final 17 games to become Southern League champions.

The 2014 season of Suns baseball is presented by EverBank, the official banking partner of the Jacksonville Suns. Sponsorships, group outings, and season / individual game tickets are currently available by calling the Suns front office at (904) 358-2846.

Below are three highlights from Friday’s ballgame:

Suns Return Home, One Win From Southern League Title

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Championship Series action returns to The Baseball Grounds with Game Three tonight at 7:05 ET. (Photo: Jacksonville Suns)

By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns

Southern League Championship Series baseball arrives in the River City tonight. Jacksonville returns home just a single win away from absolute victory in 2014.

The Suns (5-1, 81-59) and Lookouts (3-4, 61-77) will face off in Game Three on Friday evening at The Baseball Grounds. First pitch in the possible clincher is scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. ET.

By virtue  of sweeping the road portion of the series, the Suns hold a commanding two games to none advantage over Chattanooga in the best of five Southern League finals. The Lookouts must win tonight in order to keep their season alive.

Jacksonville nailed down a 5-3 win in Game One. They followed up with an offensive explosion during the middle innings of Game Two, which left little in doubt late in the contest. The Suns erased an early 2-0 deficit en route to the eventual 12-3 final last night at AT&T Field.

The home team will have three opportunities, if needed, to claim the one additional win required to secure a sixth Southern League title. They can also rest in the knowledge that all remaining post-season games will be played within the friendly confines of Bragan Field.

For the Suns and their fans, the incredible late season, and now post-season, run continues. Jacksonville has won five of six playoff games and fifteen of their last sixteen contests overall. A sixteenth win in the stretch would return the Billy Hitchcock trophy to the River City for the first time in four seasons. 

Jacksonville will turn to one of its best all around starters this season in an attempt to close out the series. Justin Nicolino was selected as the Southern League’s “Pitcher of the Year” at the end of the regular season, and with good reason. Nicolino (14-4, 2.85) posted fourteen wins and the league’s best E.R.A. in 2014.

The Suns southpaw won his only post-season start September 6 in the home opener against Mobile during the South Division Series. Nicolino is 1-0 with a 3.86 E.R.A. in the playoffs.

Jeremy Kehrt (2-0, 1.69) joined the Lookouts mid-season, making four starts for Chattanooga during their run to the North Division second half title. The right-hander has been extremely impressive in limited action.

Kehrt received a no decision in his only post-season start thus far, working five full innings while allowing just four hits and one Huntsville run in Game Three of the North Series. The twenty-eight year old will be tasked with setting the tone for a visiting club hoping to force a fourth game in the series tomorrow night.

Fans can listen to every pitch of the Championship Series live on the Suns Baseball Network, with Roger Hoover providing play by play. Hoover will be joined by Michael West and Jason Patterson. West and Patterson will host a special post-season edition of the Memorial Hospital Pre-game Show, beginning at 6:50 p.m. ET on the Suns Baseball Network.

Previewing The Championship Series

Jacksonville reached the final round of the postseason by disposing of Mobile in only four games. The series, which the Suns claimed 3 games to 1, included a 9-1 rout on Monday in the South Division clincher.

Chattanooga’s entry route was a little tougher, requiring all five games of the North Division Series against first-half champion Huntsville. The finale saw the Stars battle back to within one run in the 9th inning before the Lookouts nailed things down to punch their ticket into the title matchup.

Despite the noticeable difference in the overall season records, the clubs appear evenly matched. They met fifteen times in the regular season, with the series undecided until the August 16 finale at AT&T Field. This most recent battle was settled with the narrowest of victories. Jacksonville took the game by a 9-8 final and the series eight games to seven.

The head to head series has already provided some notable moments. The clubs have twice played extra innings, splitting the extended games on back to back days in Jacksonville across Independence Day weekend. Surprisingly, for two very effective offensive clubs, the Suns shutout Chattanooga on three separate occasions, with the Lookouts twice returning the favor.   

Both teams peaked at the perfect time, claiming the second half crown in their respective divisions. Jacksonville finished the second half twenty games over .500, owning a 45-25 second half mark. Chattanooga stood alone as the only team in the North to post a winning second half. The Lookouts secured a 35-33 final record in second half action.

What should not be lost in the mere numbers, however, is the way both clubs closed out the season. Chattanooga compiled an eye-popping twenty wins against only eight losses across the season’s final month.

Jacksonville swept the final two series of the year, winning their final ten regular season games consecutively to gain entrance into the playoffs. Every victory in the impressive stretch was necessary to secure the second half division title by only a single game over the Mississippi Braves.

Interestingly, the Suns only loss in nearly three weeks remains a 4-3, eleven inning, decision in Game Two of their first round series against the BayBears. Chattanooga was shutout in both losses to Huntsville during the North Division series.

Post-Season History

Back to Back Championships in 2009 and 2010 marked the Suns most recent post-season appearances. Jacksonville is playing deep into September for a league record nineteenth time in franchise history.

The Suns own five Southern League crowns and ten professional baseball titles overall. Jacksonville flies Southern League championship pennants from 1996, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2010. River City representatives have also brought home Championships in the South Atlantic League (3), Southeastern League (1) and International League (1) along the way.

Jacksonville is playing in the Southern League Championship Series for the fourteenth time in 2014, also the league’s best all-time mark. The Suns have claimed victory during each of their last three trips into the final round of the post-season.

1988 remains Chattanooga’s lone championship season to this point. The Lookouts have played for the Southern League title on four separate occasions, falling short in 1992, 1995 and 1996. The franchise boasts four other minor league baseball titles, all secured between 1932 and 1961. Chattanooga is making its impressive thirteenth Southern League post-season appearance overall.

Though the combined success of both clubs in regards to reaching the post-season might lead one to believe otherwise, the only previous Southern League Championship Series meeting between this year’s participants was in 1996. The matchup stands as the most recent championship appearance for Chattanooga. Jacksonville secured its first league title by taking the series three games to one.

Tonight’s Key Information

Matchup: Jacksonville Suns (81-59, South Champions) @ Chattanooga Lookouts (61-77, North Champions)

Starters: CHT: RHP Jeremy Kehrt (0-0, 1.80) JAX: LHP Justin Nicolino (1-0, 3.86)

Current Series: Suns lead series 2-0.

Who’s Hot: -Brady Shoemaker (go-ahead double in the 5th inning last night, followed by a two-run HR in the 9th inning to put the exclamation point on the Suns second win)

-Austin Barnes & Viosergy Rosa (combined for a pair of two-run homers in the 6th which helped build a 7-2 advantage at the time in Game 2)

Season Series: Jacksonville won the season series 8 games to 7.

Southern League Titles: Jacksonville, 5 (1996, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010)

                                            Chattanooga, 1 (1988)

Sun Spots: Here are a few pieces of valuable information to consider heading into tonight’s game, direct from the official Jacksonville Suns game notes compiled by Michael West:

- The Suns tied their season-high in hits with 16 in Thursday’s 12-3 game two victory over the Chattanooga 

Lookouts, with nine of those his going for extra bases (three home runs, six doubles).

- By erasing an early 2-0 deficit, the Suns earned their 42nd come-from-behind victory of the 2014 season.

- After putting up 12 runs in game two, the Suns improved to 54-9 on the year when scoring five or more runs.

- Additionally, Jacksonville upped its record to 59-6 overall on the year when holding a lead after six innings.

- By drawing ten walks for the second straight game against the Lookouts, the Suns have outdrawn them in walks by a 20-3 margin (Suns have outdrawn their opponents 40-7 in walks during the duration of the playoffs).

Today’s broadcast will air on the Suns Baseball Network’s flagship station 94.1 Classic Rock WSOS-FM. It can also be found via the Jacksonville Suns mobile app. Click the link below to listen online.

Listen to Game Three of the Southern League Championship: Live – September 12, 2014

You can also keep up with all the game action on the Suns Baseball Network and by following the Suns on Twitter and liking us on Facebook.

Tickets Still Available For All Potential Home Games

Those in the Jacksonville area who have not yet made plans to attend tonight’s potentially decisive game of the Southern League Championship Series are encouraged to come out and support the Suns. The home portion of the 2014 Southern League Championship Series begins at 7:05 p.m. ET.

Tickets are still available for tonight’s contest, allowing fans to become a part of one of the great home field advantages in Minor League Baseball. As a special promotion, the Suns are allowing all Kids 12 and under in free. Don’t miss your chance to perhaps witness history.

The 2014 season of Suns baseball is presented by EverBank, the official banking partner of the Jacksonville Suns. Post-Season tickets are currently on sale through the Suns Box Office. Championship Series tickets are sold at premium pricing with $10.50 for general admission, $12.50 for reserved seating and $16.50 for Homeplate Box seating. Tickets can be purchased by calling (904) 358-2846, or online at http://www.jaxsuns.com.

Suns Scorch Lookouts 12-3 In Game Two

CHATTANOOGA, TN – After trailing 2-0 early, the Jacksonville Suns (5-1) rattled off the next 12 runs of the game and ultimately downed the Chattanooga Lookouts (3-4) by a 12-3 final in game two of the Southern League Championship Series on Thursday from AT&T Field. With the win, the Suns now hold a 2-0 series lead.

Jon Link (W, 1-0) picked up the win for the Suns by allowing two runs (both earned) on seven hits with a walk and six strikeouts in his five innings of work.

James Nygren held the Lookouts without a run on a pair of hits and two strikeouts in his two scoreless innings of relief.

Blake Logan struck out the side in order in a scoreless 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth inning.

Jheyson Manzueta allowed a lone run (earned) on one hit with one strikeout in his one inning of work to finish off the ballgame in a non-save situation.

Steve Smith (L, 0-2) was saddled with the loss for Chattanooga after surrendering six runs (five earned) on seven hits with four walks and three strikeouts in his 5.2 innings.

The game was scoreless until the Lookouts broke through with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second inning. Steve Smith helped his own cause with a two-out, two-run single into right field to put Chattanooga up by a 2-0 score after two innings of play.

The Suns would hop on the scoreboard with two runs to tie the game up in the top of the fourth. A Jon Link RBI groundout brought in Terrence Dayleg to cut the lead in half, while the next batter Austin Nola contributed a two-out RBI single to make it a 2-2 ballgame after three and a half innings.

Jacksonville would then take the lead with a single run in the top of the fifth inning. Brady Shoemaker’s RBI double hugged the third base line and stayed fair to bring in J.T. Realmuto from second to give the Suns a 3-2 lead with four and a half innings complete.

The Suns added to their lead by sending 10 men to the plate and scoring five times in the top of the sixth, all of which came with two outs. Two-run home runs from Austin Barnes (HR, 2) and Viosergy Rosa (HR, 3) plus a Terrence Dayleg RBI single stretched Jacksonville’s lead to 8-2 after five and a half innings of play.

But the Suns were not done in the top of the ninth, scoring four more times to further their advantage. Back-to-back RBI doubles from J.T. Realmuto and Viosergy Rosa and a two-run homer from Brady Shoemaker (HR, 2) made it a 12-2 Suns lead with eight and a half innings in the books.

The Lookouts were able to cut into the lead with a run in the bottom of the ninth, using Chris O’Brien’s (HR, 3) leadoff homer to make it a 12-3 Suns lead and cap off the scoring in game two.

With the victory, the Jacksonville Suns now find themselves with a 2-0 series lead, needing one more victory to clinch the sixth Southern League Championship in the franchise’s history.

The Suns finished with 16 hits on the game, with nine of them going for extra bases. Every Suns position player in the starting lineup recorded a hit, including two-hit games from Brady Shoemaker and Terrence Dayleg and three-hit efforts from Austin Barnes, Viosergy Rosa and Isaac Galloway.

Lookouts position player Alex Liddi got the final out of the top of the ninth inning in his professional pitching debut.

The Suns and Lookouts will be back at it for game three of the Southern League Championship Series on Friday, as the series shifts back to Jacksonville with first pitch set for 7:05 p.m. ET from Bragan Field. The Suns are set to throw out left-hander Justin Nicolino (1-0, 3.86) while the Lookouts are due to counter with right-hander Jeremy Kehrt (0-0, 1.80).

Suns fans can listen to Friday’s game on the Suns Baseball Network, 94.1 WSOS-FM or through www.jaxsuns.com, MiLB.com or the Suns iPhone or Android app beginning at 6:50 p.m. ET with the Memorial Hospital Suns Pregame Show.

The 2014 season of Suns baseball is presented by EverBank, the official banking partner of the Jacksonville Suns. Sponsorships, group outings, and season / individual game tickets are currently available by calling the Suns front office at (904) 358-2846.

Below are two highlights from Thursday’s ballgame: