by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's Game 2 of the Carolina Mudcats' short four-game homestand against the Tennessee Smokies, and the home team is badly in need of a win.
Carolina, which finished just one game behind the Huntsville Stars for the first-half championship of the Southern League's North Division, is in last place in the league through 13 games in the second half and things haven't been looking up.
On Saturday night, in front of that SRO crowd drawn in by the July 4 fireworks, the Smokies scored all their runs in the last three innings to win 7-4. Tonight they'll play an hour earlier at 6:15, with a crowd about half as large under cloudy skies but another fireworks show on the horizon.
Traffic getting out of the park on Saturday was a nightmare, but this time the East-to-West drive across Wake county should be smooth - unless somebody decides that Sunday night when so many are headed to the state's most populated areas from the beaches is a good time to work on U.S. 64.
Grab a pregame cheeseburger and we're ready to go.
And right off the bat - literally - things don't go well for the homeboys in a game they eventually lose 6-0.
Tennessee, which had lost all five games here in the first half, puts up a three-spot in the first. Nathan Samson draws a leadoff walk before Tyler Colvin deposits lefty Tom Cochran's next pitch over the right-field wall to make it 2-0. Marquez Smith then reaches on a two-base error off the glove of left fielder Todd Frazier, and scores on a one-out double to left from James Adduci.
Casey Coleman (pictured) is sailing along for the visitors, giving up just one hit and a walk over the first four innings.
The top of the order strikes again for Tennessee in the fourth. With one out, Samson singles to right and Colvin follows with a double to right. Smith reaches on an error to shortstop Zack Cozart, with Samson scoring on the play. With two out, Adduci hits a two-run single to left and it's 6-0.
Cochran's night is done one batter later, and he has given up six runs - three earned - on eight hits with three strikeouts against three walks.
And the scoring stops right there.
Coleman fires 99 pitches, giving up two hits in eight innings while striking out four against three walks before Marco Carrillo fires the ninth.
And he's got his defense behind him, as the Smokies turn double plays in the fifth, seventh and eighth.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats skipper David Bell: "Coleman threw the ball great for them tonight. He's a good athlete and has a good idea of what he's doing out there. He's very competitive. Cochran just had trouble getting into a good rhythm tonight."
Tennessee manager Ryne Sandberg: "We didn't win here in the first half, but then we closed the first half by winning four of five against them at our place. We've been playing well for about three weeks now. Coleman went out and set the tone for us. He's one of the best pitchers in this league. We did a good job of scoring runs early. Colvin has been really good hitting in the No. 2 spot."
Coleman: "It was kind of weird - I threw more balls than usual, but when I was down in the zone I was able to get ground balls. (Carolina) has a lot of different kinds of hitters. I don't have to deal with (Chris) Heisey right now because he went up, but (Juan) Francisco has given me a lot of trouble. He's a free swinger and you can't miss with him."
What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats stay deep in last place in the division for now.
Stars of the game
2. Colvin, for his homer and two doubles.
3. Adduci, for his 4-for-5 with a double and three RBI.
Play of the game
Colvin's homer in the first.
Tennessee leads 9-8.
Carolina: Lost 3.
Tennessee: Won 3.
Tennessee at Mudcats, Monday, 7:15 p.m.
Hung-Wen Chen (right, 4-6, 5.92) vs. Matthew Klinker (right, 1-0, 3.00)