by Mike Potter
FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON It's the finale of the Carolina Mudcats' five-game homestand against the Tennessee Smokies and there's no reason for the Mudcats not to relax.
Earlier today a West Tenn Diamond Jaxx victory made the inevitable official. The Mudcats, who came within one game of the first-half North Division title, are not going to be in the Southern League playoffs.
For Tennessee it's a very big game, as there is still a three-way race among the Volunteer State teams for the division title.
Carolina continues to feed its best players to Triple-A Louisville, with veteran southpaw Tom Cochran the latest to head for a probable Governors' Cup Playoff team.
There's a college night promotion going on, and fans and Mudcats employees are wearing logo clothing for either their alma mater or the school they root for.
The players get in on the action, too, as the college alumni are greeted by their school's fight songs when they come to bat and everybody who didn't go to college gets assigned one.
Let's get some chicken tenders and start this pitchers' duel, which finishes in a 2-1 comeback victory for the visitors.
It's a good one from the start, with the World Cup-bound Dutchman Alexander Smit (pictured) on the mound for Carolina against Casey Coleman.
Both pitchers work their way into and out of little bits of trouble in the early going before the Mudcats strike in the fourth. Sean Henry leads off with a walk and steals second before Logan Parker scores him with a one-out single to left.
And the score stays right there until the ninth inning, when the Smokies figure out Greg Atencio for a while.
Ty Wright leads off with a double to left, and then Blake Lalli strikes out but both he and Wright advance on a wild pitch. Starlin Castro comes on to pinch run for Lalli, and then with one out Russ Canzler puts Tennessee ahead with a two-run double to left.
And the Mudcats prepare to hit the road for five games at Montgomery before returning home Sept. 3 for their season-ending homestand against the Mississippi Braves.
Here's what they said ...
Mudcats manager David Bell: "What a game Smit pitched! He's really got some good stuff, and there's some deception there. It's good anytime you see a lefthander who can do the things he does. Their guy (Coleman) has been pitching well against us all year. He's a good athlete."
Tennessee manager Ryne Sandberg: "It was definitely a game that we wanted. Four of five in a road series? That's excellent. The pitching was good for both teams throughout the game, and our guys clutched up at the end."
Smit: "I threw all right. I was trying to attack the zone, and I pitched inside a little more tonight. And it wasn't just me - the guys played great defense behind me tonight."
What does it all mean?
That Tennessee stays just one game behind the Diamond Jaxx in the South, while the Mudcats are going to need to get it going to avoid the division cellar.
Stars of the game
1. Canzler, for the game-winning hit.
2. Smit, for seven shutout innings in the no-decision.
3. Coleman, for the quality start in his no-decision.
Play of the game
Canzler's two-run double.
Tennessee leads 18-12.
Carolina: Lost 1.
Tennessee: Won 1.
Carolina: LHP Tom Cochran promoted to Louisville.
Carolina at Montgomery, Friday, 8:05 p.m.
Luis Montano (R, 0-5, 7.53) vs. Aneury Rodriguez (R, 8-10, 4.52)
Mobile at Tennessee, Friday, 7:15 p.m.
Bryan Augenstein (R, 5-0, 0.89) vs. Chris Carpenter (R, 0-2, 5.06)