Russell homers twice, but Smokies fall to M-Braves 9-8

KODAK, Tenn. (release) -- Smokies shortstop Addison Russell ripped two roundtrippers and drove in four runs, while Mississippi mounted a furious comeback courtesy of a five-run eighth inning and three Tennessee errors in the Braves’ 9-8 series-ending victory on Friday evening in front of a crowd of 6,913 at Smokies Stadium.

Despite the defeat, the Smokies still topped Mississippi in the series by taking three of the five games, though they did fall a half game behind the Birmingham Barons for first place in the North Division standings. The M-Braves with the victory improve to 18-17 in the second half of the season, while the Smokies fell to 18-17.

Russell crushed big flies in each of his first two at bats, marking the second time in a six-game span the 20-year-old had accomplished that feat. The shortstop also blasted two longballs on July 20 at Huntsville, which included a grand slam and a single-game career-high six RBI.

Tennessee got off to a hot start with a five-run opening frame, including Russell’s first blast of the night. After RF Pin-Chieh Chen and CF Albert Almora started the order with back-to-back base hits, Russell ripped the 1-1 offering to left over the Calhoun’s At The Yard deck to put the Smokies up 3-0. After 3B Christian Villanueva doubled, C Luis Flores brought him in with an RBI single to left, while 2B Jonathan Mota immediately drove in Fores with a run-scoring double to left-center to cap the frame’s scoring at 5-0.

Russell would then go yard again in the very next inning, a solo shot landing just shy the scoreboard in left field to extend Tennessee’s lead to 6-0. It was also the fourth homer in a span of eight games for the infielder after recording none through his first eight contests with Tennessee.

Mississippi would eventually get three of those tallies back in the fourth to cut their deficit in half. 1B Rich Poythress led off the inning with a single to left, and then moved to third on LF Cedric Hunter’s double to right before coming across on RF David Rohm’s sacrifice fly to center. 3B Barrett Kleinknecht’s RBI base knock would send home Hunter, before Kleinknecht himself would score on SS Gustavo Nunez’s two-bagger to left to make it 6-3.

The M-Braves subsequently cut the margin to two with another tally in the fifth with a longball of their own. Hunter smashed a full count pitch over the right field wall for a solo shot, his 11th home run of the year to decrease the Smokies’ lead to 6-4.

The third Smokies homer of the game would then return the advantage back to three in the sixth inning. Flores slammed a solo shot over the Calhoun’s deck in left, his third longball of the season with the Smokies, to put Tennessee up 7-4, while Flores would add to the Smokies’ total again in the seventh with an RBI single to left to push the lead to four again.

Mississippi marched back and took their only lead of the game in the eighth courtesy of a five-run rally. Kleinknecht began the big inning with a base knock to center before advancing to second on an error, and then coming plateward via C Braeden Schlehuber’s RBI two-bagger to right. Schlehuber would score along with Nunez, who walked, on pinch hitter Kyle Kubitza’s triple down the right field line to cut the margin to a lone tally, while Kubitza would later come home when 2B Jose Peraza reached on a Smokies’ fielding miscue.

After moving to second on a sacrifice bunt, Peraza stole third and then scampered to the plate by taking advantage of Tennessee’s third error of the inning. Peraza’s theft was his eighth during the five-game series, marking the most swiped bases by an opposing player against the Smokies since 2006.

Smokies reliever Andrew McKirahan (2.0 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO) suffered the loss to fall to 0-1, while M-Braves relief man Brandon Cunniff (1.0 IP, 2 SO) earned his second victory of the season. M-Braves starter and former Tennessee Smokie Mitch Atkins (5.0 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO) did not factor in the decision after allowing six earned runs on eight hits in five frames.

Flores (3-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI) and Villanueva (3-5, 1 R, 2 2B) each recorded three hits, and joined Russell (2-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI) in recording multi-hit efforts for the Smokies, while Hunter (3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB), Poythress (3-5, 1 R), Nunez (2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB) and Kleinknecht (2-4, 2 R, 1 BB) all collected two or more hits for the M-Braves. It was the second consecutive two-hit game for Russell, who snapped out of an 0-for-9 skid over his previous four games last night.

The Smokies will now travel to Birmingham, Alabama for a five-game series with the Birmingham Barons, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Tennessee is expected to give the nod to RHP Matt Loosen (4-5, 5.73) in the series opener, while the Barons are slated to send LHP Scott Snodgress (6-7, 3.89) to the hill. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET at Regions Field.

The club will then return home on Thursday, July 31 to face the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, for their first and only five-game series matchup at Smokies Stadium. First pitch of that series opener is set for 7:15 p.m. in Kodak.

Tickets for that game and the remainder of the Smokies’ 2014 home schedule are still available and can be purchased online at, or by calling the Smokies Ticket Office at 286-2300.

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