BILOXI – When Shuckers catcher Jacob Nottingham stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 13th Tuesday night, he had one hit in his first 18 at-bats of the year – a 2-run home run in the second game of the season.
Make that two hits and two homers for Nottingham in 2016.
The power-hitting catcher ripped the first pitch he saw in the 13th well over the left field fence to hand the Shuckers a 2-1 win over the rival Mobile BayBears at MGM Park Tuesday night.
The big blast capped nearly four hours of baseball before a crowd of 1,280 on a damp night.
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“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Nottingham said. “I've been struggling a little bit, just trying to do too much. I just tried to believe in myself, get a good pitch and put it in play. I tried, did it and everything came out good.”
The homer pushed Nottingham's batting average to just .111, but it's obvious that the former Oakland A's minor leaguer is as talented as any player on the Shuckers roster.
He's hit three homers at MGM Park this year, one of them coming in an April 2 exhibition game against the Major League parent club Milwaukee Brewers.
“I think he's just been pressing a little bit,” Shuckers manager Mike Guerrero said. “We've just played six games. It's a long season. I think he's going to be fine. He knows he's got pop. He just stayed within himself. He's going to be awesome. He's going to be a pretty good player. He's just learning to take it one day at a time.”
Five Shuckers pitchers combined to hold Mobile to one run on nine hits in 13 innings.
Josh Hader had a nice showing in his second start of the season, giving up one run on four hits in five innings. He struck out seven and walked none as he did a good job of keeping the ball in the strike zone. Of his 87 pitches, 64 were for strikes.
Steve Peterson (2-0) picked up his second win in relief this season by throwing two perfect innings.
Tristan Archer, Drew Gagnon and Hobbs Johnson each pitched two scoreless innings to keep the Shuckers alive.
“Everybody threw the ball well,” Guerrero said. “They followed the game plan. That's an accomplishment. You've got to praise the bullpen. They held out. There wasn't much left out there, but they did a pretty good job.”
While Nottingham has had some struggles at the plate early, he's proven solid behind the plate.
“This pitching staff is awesome,” Nottingham said. “I can't ask for a better pitching staff. They're easy to work with, just a bunch of good guys. It's easy to be around them. They make my job better.”
The Shuckers (5-1) will close out their seven-game home stand at 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday against Mobile.
Biloxi will go with right-hander Javi Salas (1-0, 1.59) and Mobile will counter with right-hander Yoan Lopez (0-0, 1.50).
There were a lot of swings and misses by both teams Tuesday night as they combined for a total of 30 strikeouts.
Mobile starting pitcher Anthony Banda, kept the Shuckers off balance early. He gave up one run on five hits, striking out nine in five innings.
Garrett Cooper kept up his early-season clutch performance at the plate, knocking in the first run of the game for the Shuckers in the third inning.
Tyrone Taylor singled and Nate Orf walked to begin the bottom of the third. Brett Phillips and Nottingham followed with strikeouts, putting the pressure on Cooper to deliver.
He responded with a hard hit grounder through the right side of the infield to bring home Taylor for the 1-0 lead.
Mobile tied the game in the fifth when Ronnie Freeman led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch in the dirt by Hader with Dan Rohlfing at the plate.
Rohlfing brought home Freeman with an RBI single up the middle to make it 1-1 through five innings.
The game moved to extra innings and the Shuckers seemed in good shape to finish off the BayBears when Taylor reached to lead off the 10th on a throwing error by third baseman Gabriel Noriega.
Mobile right-hander Matt Stites retired the next three batters to keep the BayBears alive.
Mobile also had a chance in the top of the 11th after Kevin Cron doubled to lead things off, but Shuckers lefty Hobbs Johnson retired the next three men to end the threat.
Biloxi made a mistake on the base paths in the bottom of the 11th when Cooper tried to take home from second on a single to left by Chris McFarland.
Cooper was easily gunned down at home by Rohlfing from left field and Kyle Wren struck out swinging to end the inning.
Nottingham's blast in the 13th made up for what was far from a perfect night for the Shuckers.
“I feel a little better,” he said. “I've still got a lot of work to do. This is just a good start. I can't wait to keep going.”
Taylor was the only Biloxi player with multiple hits, going 3-for-6 with a run scored out of the lead-off spot.