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.
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.