Post-Season baseball returns to Jacksonville Saturday evening. (Photo: Jacksonville Suns)
By Jason Patterson / Jacksonville Suns
After splitting the first two contests of the post-season on the road, Jacksonville is set to battle Mobile for control of their first round series in a pivotal Game Three on Saturday evening. The division rival Suns (1-1) and BayBears (1-1) make their return trip to the River City tonight in the South Division Championship Series.. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
The Baseball Grounds was the site of Jacksonville’s five game sweep of the BayBears to close out the regular season, which ended less than a week ago with the Suns second half clincher and ensuing celebration. Those memories will be fresh for Suns fans as they file through the gates at Bragan Field.
The playoff series will be decided at the same location across the next three days. Thus far, the five game set has not disappointed, containing everything one would expect from the first and second half champs out of the South Division. Both games have been decided by a single run, with the final game at Hank Aaron Stadium requiring extra innings.
Jacksonville battled back from a 4-0 deficit in the opener to secure a 5-4 victory. The comeback was completed with a two-run homer from Austin Barnes after the Suns were down to their final out in the top of the ninth.
Mobile returned the favor, erasing a 3-0 Suns advantage on Friday night for a 4-3 walk-off win in the bottom of the eleventh. Viosergy Rosa’s three-run blast in the Suns first at bat would unfortunately be all the scoring for Jacksonville. The BayBears scored two runs in the second, then tied the game in the bottom of the eighth inning to set up the dramatic finish.
As familiar with one another as ever, the Suns and BayBears will meet for an eighth consecutive contest tonight. This time around, the victor will close within just one win of the Southern League Championship Series.
Jacksonville turns to the Southern League’s “Pitcher of the Year” and E.R.A. leader, Justin Nicolino (14-4, 2.5) in the home playoff opener. The Suns lefty last pitched on Sunday, working seven shutout innings against Mobile in his final start of the regular season.
The BayBears are expected to hand the ball to Aaron Blair (4-1, 1.94) in Game Three. The right-hander has been exceptional in limited action this season for Mobile. Blair pitched against the Suns as a part of last Saturday’s double-header, logging five scoreless frames.
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 6:50 p.m. ET on the Suns Baseball Network.
Saturday’s game will be broadcast live on radio at 100.7 FM-The Bull. All other games will be live on 94.1 WSOS-FM as regularly scheduled.
As a special promotion during the first round of the playoffs, the Suns are allowing all Kids 12 and under in free. All fans will receive 2014 Suns Team Photo when entering the gates.
The Sea Best Saturday Shrimp Dinner will also take place Saturday in the SunDowner Lounge where fans can get an all you can eat breaded shrimp dinner with sides and a drink from 6-8 p.m. for only $16.50.
Previewing The South Division Series
The success of these two clubs in recent years is well documented. Four of the past five Southern League Championships have been won by the two South Division rivals. They possess nine total 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.
Tonight’s Key Information
Matchup: Jacksonville Suns (81-59, Second-Half Champions) @ Mobile BayBears (79-58, First-Half Champions)
Starters: MOB: RHP Aaron Blair (4-1, 1.94) JAX: LHP Justin Nicolino (14-4, 2.85)
Current Series: Suns and BayBears tied 1-1.
Who’s Hot: Viosergy Rosa (His early three-run blast provided all the Suns offense in Game Two)
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 53-21 when scoring first in games during the regular season, the Suns fell 4-3 in game two
despite hopping on the scoreboard first with three first inning runs.
– After being outhit by the BayBears 9-5 in game two of the SDCS, the Suns dropped their record to 30-43 on the year when they’re outhit by their opponents
– The loss is Jacksonville’s first since falling at home to Pensacola in August 21st’s series finale by a 7-6 final.
– 19 of Jacksonville’s 28 losses after holding a lead on the season have come in road contests.
– Normally a good indicator of success, the Suns dropped to 42-14 overall in 2014 when playing error-free baseball.
Today’s broadcast will air on the Suns Baseball Network. It will be available in the Jacksonville area by tuning in to 100.7-FM The BULL. 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. Playoff tickets are currently on sale through the Suns Box Office. Post-Season 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.