Biloxi Shuckers

MGM Park sees uptick in attendance to start ’17, but Shuckers falter

Biloxi's Mauricio Dubon watches his hit during the fourth inning of the Shuckers' home opener against Pensacola at MGM Park in Biloxi on Wednesday.
Biloxi's Mauricio Dubon watches his hit during the fourth inning of the Shuckers' home opener against Pensacola at MGM Park in Biloxi on Wednesday. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Shuckers owner Ken Young felt confident prior to Wednesday night’s home opener that attendance would see an uptick at MGM Park in 2017.

Through one game, that prediction holds true.

A crowd of 3,708 showed up Wednesday night to watch the Pensacola Blue Wahoos top Biloxi 3-0. That’s a significant upgrade on the 2,542 at the 2016 home opener as the Shuckers had a slow start at the box office a year ago.

The Shuckers ranked eighth in attendance in the Southern League in 2016, averaging 2,692 fans a game.

“(The small crowds early in 2016) are not unusual, but we do need to improve that in the first six weeks of the season. That is a goal,” Young said Wednesday.

Wednesday night’s contest was the first of a five-game series and the two teams will meet again at MGM Park at 6:35 p.m. on Thursday.

“It was a pretty good crowd,” Biloxi manager Mike Guerrero said. “We just come out and the losing end.”

While the crowd held up its end of the bargain, the Shuckers struggled mightily at the plate Wednesday night. Pensacola starting pitcher Tyler Mahle picked up the win in a dominant performance. He allowed one hit and walked two in 7 innings, striking out six.

“He showed good stuff out there,” Guerrero said. “You’ve got to tip your cap when someone comes out and has the command he had and the stuff he showed. It’s one of those nights.”

After holding Biloxi hitless on just 51 pitches through 5 innings, Mahle finally hit a rough patch in the sixth inning.

He walked Angel Ortega to start the inning and Javier Betancourt came up with his first hit of the season and his team’s first of the game on a single through the right side of the infield. Mahle then walked pinch hitter Dustin Demuth to load the bases.

Mahle managed to get Mauricio Dubon swinging for the first out of the inning, struck out Johnny Davis and forced Michael Reed to ground out to first to end the threat and the inning.

Mahle (2-0) pitched an easy seventh before retiring for the night.

Mahle settled in early and worked quickly all night.

“If you’ve got a good pace going, it kind of lets the hitters think less,” Mahle said. “It kind of hurries them and keeps me in rhythm.”

The Shuckers managed to get two on via a walk and hit-by-pitch in the eighth, but Johnny Davis grounded out to end the the threat.

The Shuckers combined to strand five runners Wednesday night.

Shuckers starting pitcher Aaron Wilkerson (1-1) lasted 5 innings, giving up three runs on five hits. He struck out seven and walked two.

Wilkerson managed to avoid trouble until the fourth inning when he walked Taylor Sparks to load the bases with two outs. Alex Blandino then ripped the first pitch he saw down the left field line for a double, clearing the bases to give the Blue Wahoos the 3-0 lead.

“I think my starting pitcher competed,” Guerrero said. “He gave us an opportunity. He only made one mistake with the bases-loaded slider and he took advantage of it. It’s part of the game.”

Jungmann’s outing: After dropping down recently from the Brewers, right-hander Taylor Jungmann made his first appearance of the season at Biloxi. He threw a scoreless sixth inning, striking out two and walking one.

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