by Hunter Dawkins
Despite the early ups and downs after the All-Star break, the Biloxi Shuckers won their seventh game in a row Sunday afternoon, rallying with a four-run unanswered eighth inning. Troy Stokes Jr. capped one of the biggest comebacks of the season for the Shuckers (59-40, 18-11) with a walk-off home run to defeat the Tennessee Smokies 7-5. Corey Ray and Jake Gatewood both homered for the Shuckers in their seventh straight win.
“We’re all really talented,” said Shuckers first baseman Gatewood following the victory. “With a group of talented guys, anything can happen.”
The two sides traded runs in the first inning. Ray tied the game with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the frame, his 19th on the year to lead the Southern League (at the time) and sixth leadoff tater. The Smokies added a second tally on a Lucas Erceg throwing error in the second to take a 2-1 lead.
Shuckers starting pitcher Zack Brown tossed 3.2 innings before exiting the game due to an apparent leg injury. Brown tried to field a comebacker when his cleat got caught underneath him as he fell to the dirt. He will be evaluated further and is considered day-to-day.
The Smokies added two more runs in the sixth when Eddy Martinez homered for the third time in as many nights. In the seventh, Charcer Burks contributed with a solo shot of his own to extend the lead to 5-1.
The Shuckers were held to just two hits over the first seven innings, but the broke out with five knocks in the eighth to tie the game. Pinch-hitting second baseman Blake Allemand started with a double followed by a Corey Ray two-bagger. Two batters later, Keston Hiura doubled home Ray, before Gatewood launched his 19th blast of the season out to left field to tie the game at five.
Biloxi’s Relief pitcher Brad Kuntz (W, 3-2) tossed a scoreless top of the ninth to give the Shuckers their opportunity in the bottom half. Ray kept the frame alive with a two-out double, his third extra-base hit of the night and league-leading 52nd on the year. With Smokies reliever Jake Stinnett (L, 0-4) on the hill, Stokes Jr. stepped up and delivered a shot over the left field wall to hand the Shuckers the 7-5 win and series sweep. The victory marks Biloxi’s seventh in a row, one shy of a season-best eight that they racked up back in April.
Stellar play throughout the series from Biloxi Centerfielder Ray, who expressed that his recent success has happened “because of trying to be consistent.” In regards to his leadoff role, Ray said “sometimes the first pitch of the game is the best pitch I will get.”
Ray leads the Southern League along with Gatewood with 19 home runs, while leading the league in stolen bases (30) and doubles (27). Ray is second with hits (99) and runs (64).