The Suns and BayBears continue the South Division Championship Series tonight in Mobile. (Photo: Roger C. Hoover)
By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
With an improbable come from behind victory, fitting of the team’s second half run to the post-season, Jacksonville stunned the crowd at Hank Aaron Stadium Thursday night and claimed a 1-0 lead in the Southern League South Division Championship Series. The Suns (1-0) and BayBears (0-1) will go right back to work tonight in Game Two, which is scheduled for an 8:05 ET first pitch.
Jacksonville was down to its final gasp in the top of the ninth inning before Austin Barnes belted a two-run homer to put the Suns ahead for the first time in the ballgame. Barnes two-out blast set the game’s eventual 5-4 final.
Mobile had built a 4-0 advantage in the contest after two innings, but the visitors kept chipping away at that lead. After pulling within one run in the 5th, the Suns could not seem to draw even. That was before Barnes stepped to the plate for his decisive at bat.
Only time will tell just how much this one swing of the bat changed the complexion of a series which appeared to be breaking in the BayBears direction early. At the very least, it took game one out of Mobile’s corner and placed it squarely in the Suns.
The Jacksonville Suns still have not lost a baseball game since August 21. They have now won eleven consecutive contests. This includes six straight victories over Mobile, dating back to their sweep of the final regular season series in Jacksonville.
Taking Game One has assured the Suns of at least a split in Mobile, meaning they will now simply need to win two more games to advance into the Southern League Championship Series. This also assures the Suns that their backs will not be against the wall when they return to The Baseball Grounds on Saturday evening.
Now, Jacksonville can turn attention to sweeping the road contests by winning tonight at Hank Aaron Stadium. If successful, the Suns would only be required to win one of three possible games in the River City to push the season even deeper into September.
Jon Link (1-0, 2.25) will be looking to follow up his outstanding performance against the BayBears last Saturday evening. The right-hander will be on the mound for Jacksonville in Game Two. Link struck out a career high twelve batters across six shutout innings, setting a new high-water mark for Suns pitchers this season.
Mobile is expected to counter with right-hander Braden Shipley (1-2, 3.60). Shipley’s last start ended in a loss to Jacksonville. He faced Link’s stable-mate Jay Rogers in the other game of the double-header on Saturday August 30. The numbers listed are final regular season numbers, as both pitchers are making their first start of the 2014 post-season tonight.
Fans can listen to all playoff games 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 the Memorial Hospital Pre-game Show, beginning at 7:50 p.m. ET on the Suns Baseball Network.
Previewing The South Division Series
The success of these two clubs in recent years has been well documented. Four of the past five Southern League Championships have been won by the two South Division rivals. They possess nine total Southern League Championship trophies between them.
Jacksonville last won the league in 2010, capping a run to back to back titles. It was a victory over Mobile which propelled the Suns into their successful title match with Tennessee. Jacksonville took that previous playoff meeting by a count of three games to one.
Mobile is attempting to claim a fourth straight South Division crown. The BayBears are already making an remarkable fifth consecutive appearance in the division series. The first-half winners also claimed their two most recent Southern League titles in back to back fashion during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
The last time someone besides Jacksonville or Mobile represented the South Division in the Southern League Championship Series was all the way back in 2008, when Mississippi won the league championship. Whatever the results of this series, one of the two competitors will run this notable streak to at least six seasons.
Jacksonville finished twenty games over .500 (45-25) in the second half. This included a 15-3 mark down the stretch. The club posted an impressive 19-10 record across the season’s final month.
Mobile closed out the second half six games over the .500 (37-31) benchmark, after claiming the first half crown with a 42-27 record. Both clubs finished in third position, behind second place Mississippi, in the final standings of the half they did not claim.
In addition to the five games Jacksonville swept to end the regular season, the teams met on ten other occasions. The overall regular season series ultimately swung the Suns direction by the slimmest of margins, eight games to seven.
Tonight’s Key Information
Matchup: Jacksonville Suns (81-59, Second-Half Champions) @ Mobile BayBears (79-58, First-Half Champions)
Starters: MOB: RHP Braden Shipley (1-2, 3.60) JAX: RHP Jon Link (1-0, 2.25)
Current Series: Suns lead 1 game to 0.
Who’s Hot: Austin Barnes (drove in three of Jacksonville’s five runs in Game One, including a game-changing two run homer in the 9th with the Suns down to their final out)
Season Series: Jacksonville took the regular season series 8 games to 7.
Southern League Titles: Jacksonville, 5 (1996, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010)
Mobile, 4 (1998, 2004*, 2011, 2012)
*weather issues forced the cancellation of the 2004 Championship Series, Mobile and Tennessee were named co-champions
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:
– Despite going 5-46 when trailing after eight innings during the regular season, the Suns erased a one-run deficit to win game one of the SDCS by a 5-4 final (represented the Suns’ 40th comeback win of the year overall).
– Jon Link set an affiliated baseball career-high with 12 strikeouts in six shutout innings against the BayBears in his game two start of a doubleheader against Mobile on August 30th (Suns walked off with a 1-0 win in the bottom of the seventh).
– With Thursday’s 6-5 victory, the Suns notched their MiLB-leading 36th one-run victory on the season overall.
– The Suns improved to 43-13 when outhitting their opponents on the 2014 season.
– Jacksonville also upped its record to 26-13 when its starting pitcher works at least six innings.
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.
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.