by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's the finale of a long six-game series between the Carolina Mudcats and the Jacksonville Suns, and the homeboys are badly in need of a win.
The Mudcats lost the first-half championship of the Southern League's North Division by one game to the Huntsville Stars, but with one game left in the series with the Suns Carolina is in last place in the division and on a three-game losing streak.
It's Day One without center fielder and Major League Futures Game-bound Chris Heisey, and "Myron Noodleman" (pictured) is in the house to entertain.
Michael Griffin is down from Louisville to replace Heisey, and Juan Francisco is off the disabled list after nursing his pulled hamstring.
I'll just go ahead and let you know it's a looooong night for the Mudcats, as they take on a team half-full of guys who were Mudcats last season before Carolina switched affiliations from the Florida Marlins to the Cincinnati Reds and lose 9-0.
The trouble starts in the first inning, as former Mudcat Brian Petersen triples to right and scores on former Mudcat Lorenzo Scott's single to right. Then with one out another former Mudcat, Scott Cousins, singles to right with Scott barreling for the plate from second. Catcher Chris Denove hangs onto the ball after the collision, but he's injured and his night is done. After the game he's headed for X-rays on his left thumb.
And it really is a good thing there's extra entertainment in the house. Jacksonville out-hits the Mudcats 14-4 to win five of six games in a road series.
The Suns score two in the second, two in the sixth and four in the seventh.
Now, while the Mudcats need a change of scenery after the first-week debacle and will get it with a long bus ride to Chattanooga, it's party time for Jacksonville.
I'm interviewing Petersen after the game - after they try to pull an interview switcheroo before I duck down to see his name under the equipment hanging over the locker - when a teammate hits him in the face with a towel full of shaving cream.
Since I work on a laptop and don't have a camera to record the hijinks, the point is a little bit lost. But the clubhouse erupts in hilarity and the boys will doubtlessly have a lot more fun on the bus ride back to Florida. They won't play in Zebulon again this season, with the final nine games of the season series all in the Suns' park.
Here's what they said ...
Suns manager and 2007 Carolina skipper Brandon Hyde: "We couldn't have started the second half much better. Our hitters all got to the gate with a good plan. I don't know how much they'll miss Heisey, but he's got s great future."
Petersen (after wiping the foam off his face): "It's a great way to start the second half, man. There wasn't anything wrong with their pitching tonight. We've been swinging the bats well all week. I think it's an advantage that so many of us have played here. We know the infield and the outfield and the wall."
Mudcats manager David Bell: "I thought (losing pitcher Jordan) Smith threw the ball well. He didn't have much pain in his knee tonight. We didn't have a good start to the second half, and I think it's a combination of things. There's still a long ways to go, but we can't let this (slump) go on."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats are off to an awful start to the second half, and of course Jacksonville is sizzling. Good news for Carolina is that a second-place or a finish close to the second-place team will make for a playoff spot if Huntsville repeats in the second half.
Stars of the game
1. Jacksonville starter Nic Ungs, allowing just three hits and a walk in a six-inning quality start.
2. Petersen, for his triple, single, two walks and two RBI.
3. The Suns' Ryan Klosterman, who has three singles with three runs scored and an RBI.
Play of the game
Brad Davis' one-out RBI double in the sixth that put the Suns up 4-0; he scored later in the inning.
Suns lead 9-7.
Carolina: Lost 4.
Jacksonville: Lost 4.
Carolina: CF Chris Heisey promoted to Louisville. OF/IF Michael Griffin returned from Louisville. IF Jake Kahaulelio returned to Sarasota. 3B Juan Francisco reactivated from disabled list. RHP Jordan Smith reactivated from disabled list.
Carolina at Chattanooga, 5:15
Travis Wood (left, 8-3, 1.27) vs. J.D. Durbin (0-2, 1.75)
Montgomery at Jacksonville, 5:05 p.m.
Chris Mason (right, 3-4, 6.05) vs. Willie Glen (right, 1-7, 4.73)