For the third time in five seasons, the Biloxi Shuckers are playing for a Southern League championship.
With their season on the line Sunday night, the Shuckers put together a five-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning to top the Pensacola Blue Wahoos 8-4 at MGM Park to take Game 5 of the semifinal series and clinch a spot in the Southern League Championship Series.
This marks the Shuckers’ second consecutive trip to the title round after doing it first in their inaugural season in 2015. The team is still looking for its first Southern League championship.
Biloxi will host the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at MGM Park in Game 1 of best-of-five Southern League Championship Series.
In Game 1, the Shuckers will send right-hander Alec Bettinger to the mound. Jackson has not yet named starter.
Going to the eighth inning with the score even at 3-3 on Sunday, the Blue Wahoos took the lead on a solo home run by Ryan Jeffers, his second of the postseason, with one out in the inning, jumping to a 4-3 advantage.
Right-hander Anthony Bender entered with a man on base for Biloxi and recorded the final two outs to end the Pensacola threat.
Shuckers shortstop Luis Aviles Jr. started the bottom of the eighth inning with a single to right and Cooper Hummel worked a walk, bringing Dillon Thomas to the plate with runners on first and second and no outs. Thomas squared to bunt but was struck in the face by the pitch from lefty Steven Gonsalves.
Thomas was removed from the game and Clayton Andrews took his place at first after the hit by pitch. Weston Wilson knotted the game at 4-4 with a sacrifice fly before C.J. Hinojosa doubled down the left field line, driving in both runners to put the Shuckers up 6-4.
After a throwing error allowed Jake Gatewood to reach base, Bruce Caldwell padded the Shuckers lead with an RBI single in front of Joantgel Segovia, who doubled to center to put Biloxi ahead 8-4.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Bender struck out the first two batters, but Jimmy Kerrigan walked and Alex Kiriloff singled to left. Facing Twins’ top prospect Royce Lewis, Bender struck out the shortstop to end the game and start the celebration for the Shuckers.
Pensacola and Biloxi went back and forth all night. The Blue Wahoos scored the first run in the top of the second on a triple by Mark Contreras and a throwing error by Aviles Jr. Hinojosa tied the game in the bottom of the frame with a solo home run to left, his second of the postseason, to tie the game at 1-1.
Max McDowell put the Shuckers in front for the first time in the bottom of the third with a solo home run to left, his first of the playoffs, giving Biloxi a 2-1 lead. Pensacola struck back with two runs in the top of the fourth inning to jump in front 3-2 and held their lead until the bottom of the sixth when Hinojosa drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly. All told, Hinojosa went 2-for-3 with a double, a home run, four RBI’s and two runs scored in the Shuckers victory.