Smokies one win away from first SL title since 1978

(Tennessee Smokies/staff reports) The Tennessee Smokies had a great weekend!

It started Friday, when the Smokies topped the Rocket City Trash Pandas, 3-1, in the decisive game three of their Southern League North Division Playoff series and punched their ticket to the League Championship Series.

A pair of home runs from Harrison Wenson backed a quality start from Chris Clarke, as the Smokies eliminated the Trash Pandas and advanced to the final series for the first time since 2011.

Then, on Sunday the Smokies beat the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, the South Division champions, 4-1 at Blue Wahoo Stadium in game one of the best-of-three Championship Series, putting the club one win away from their first outright Southern League title since 1978.

Friday, Wenson opened the game’s scoring with a solo homer in the third inning. Rocket City answered with a run in its half of the third, but Jake Slaughter singled in what proved to be the winning run in the fifth. Wenson later added an insurance run with his second solo shot of the night off Ben Joyce. 

RHP Chris Clarke (W, 1-0) lifted the Smokies with a six-inning gem. He allowed only five hits and a run while striking out seven Trash Pandas. Samuel Reyes struck out five in a three-inning save to secure the win and send Tennessee to the Championship Series.

In Sunday’s Game 1, Tennessee scored three runs in the top of the first, though none came in on a ball in play. Chase Strumpf forced a run home on a bases-loaded walk, and later both Jake Slaughter and Cole Roederer scored on an errant pickoff attempt by Pensacola catcher Will Banfield.

Nelson Maldonado hit the only home run of the game in the top of the third inning to extend the Smokies’ lead to four runs. Pensacola’s lone run came on an RBI fielder’s choice in the fourth.

The Smokies’ bullpen locked down the Blue Wahoos to close the game. Following DJ Herz’s short start, relievers Riley Martin (W, 1-0), Blake Whitney and Bailey Horn (S, 1) threw a combined 5.1 innings, allowed one walk and struck out seven.

The Smokies will look to clinch the Championship Series Tuesday night at Smokies Stadium after an off-day Monday. First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 pm.

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