BILOXI – Shuckers starting pitcher Jorge Lopez retired 18 consecutive batters at one point in another dominant performance for a 4-1 victory over the Mississippi Braves Thursday night.
Lopez put on a show for a crowd of 5,216, the largest attendance in MGM Park's brief history. The mark shouldn't stand long with only limited grass berm tickets available for Friday's 6:10 p.m. game.
After giving up a two-out single in the second, Lopez didn't allow another hit until Levi Hyams doubled to right with two out in the eighth.
Lopez said “everything” was working for him Thursday as he gave up one run on four hits in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out nine and walked one.
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“My command, it was pretty good tonight,” Lopez said. “Every pitch I threw, I was focused and more consistent with my pitches. (Catcher Parker Berberet) did a really good job. I missed a couple of pitches, but I thought we had a real good combination.”
The Shuckers have won the last seven times Lopez has started a game. He improved to 7-2 to put in him in a tie with teammate Brooks Hall and Tennessee's Frank Batista for second place in the Southern League in wins.
Lopez admitted that he's been at his best of late.
“I've learned a lot,” he said. “I've been learning a lot between (pitching coach Chris Hook) and (manager Carlos Subero). Every day is a process. It's a good process here. I've learned a lot.”
The nine strikeouts by Lopez, who left the game to a standing ovation, was a career high.
“Tremendous,” Subero said of Lopez. “Even when he falls behind he's not giving in with just his fastball. He's spotting his fastball and that's big. When you see kids start doing that, they're closing the gap. We've still got two months ago but what he's done so far has been impressive. He's been very good his last six to seven outings.”
After winning the Southern League South first-half title, the Shuckers have shown no signs of cooling off. Thursday's victory gives Biloxi nine consecutive series victories and a second-half record of 5-2 to stay in first place in the South Division.
The Shuckers, who have an overall record of 49-27, have taken command of the Magnolia State rivalry with six consecutive wins over the M-Braves and an 8-4 lead in the season series.
“Last year, we put a run together in Huntsville that was very similar, but this is a different ball club,” Subero said. “The whole way they're shaped with character, their chemistry. It's different.
“We did have a good ball club last year, but it got disrupted with promotions. That hurt in the second half. This club foresees staying together. It's a result of the effort they give on a daily basis. I think that's translating into wins. We've won some games that could have gone the other way and they're going our way. I don't know if it will stay like that all year, but hopefully it does. It all evens out. This is a tremendous club with great character.”
A one-out RBI double by K.D. Lang to right field gave the M-Braves (3-4) a 1-0 lead after inning.
M-Braves starting pitcher Victor Mateo appeared to lose his composure in the second inning with a pair of walks and two balks, but Josh Fellhauer grounded out to Mateo to leave the bases loaded and keep the Shuckers off the scoreboard.
The Shuckers got to Mateo in the third inning with Nick Shaw's leadoff single starting a run of five consecutive Shuckers reaching base.
Orlando Arcia doubled down the left field line to bring home Shaw. Michael Reed followed with a ground ball through the left side of the infield to plate Arcia.
Three batters later, Taylor Green gave the Shuckers a 3-1 lead on a sacrifice fly RBI.
Shaw made it 4-1 with an RBI single to center in the sixth.
Biloxi right fielder Michael Reed preserved the 4-1 lead in the ninth inning when he threw out Kang at home plate after he tagged third on a fly ball to right field.
The Shuckers host the M-Braves at 6:10 p.m Friday in the final contest of the three-game series. A fireworks show will follow the game.
Left-hander Hobbs Johnson (5-4, 3.34) will start Friday for the Shuckers and right-hander Jamie Schultz (5-3, 3.55) will go for the M-Braves.