Jay Jackson got the win (PHOTO/RENNIE LEON)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Class AA Southern League All-Stars fell on Alabama and Regions Park Monday evening, and the North Division stars – including those from the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies – shined the brightest.
“Alabama, can I see you and shake your hand?
Make friends down in Alabama ... ”
The North All-Stars tallied 11 hits and jumped out to a seven-run lead at the halfway point, cruising to a 7-0 victory over the South All-Stars before 7,127 in attendance.
“For one day, we’re on the same side. Going into the game, our goal was to get these guys to have some fun and play relaxed and just go through what they do,” said West Tennessee manager Phil Plantier, who guided the North Division All-Stars.
“As a coaching staff, we tried to make sure everybody gets in the ballgame and that they all have an opportunity to showcase themselves. I’m real proud of the guys. They did a good job and they seemed like they had a good time.”
Chattanooga’s Josh Bell certainly had a good time.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ prospect and Lookouts third baseman went 2-for-5 with a two-run home run. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Bell put a punctuation mark on his performance when he sent a 3-2 pitch from Montgomery pitcher Jeremy Hellickson over the right field wall, highlighting a three-run third inning that gave the North Division a 4-0 lead.
“[Bell] had a good ballgame,” said Plantier. “It was a good choice.”
Bell, who entered the year ranked the No. 8 prospect in the Dodgers’ system by Baseball America and is batting .278 with eight home runs and 39 RBI, said the home run almost didn’t happen.
“I got a fastball in and I was upset at the umpire because the pitch before [on 3-1], I thought it was a ball. I have to thank him,” Bell said.
The North All-Stars capped their scoring in the fifth inning with three runs. West Tennessee’s Marshall Hubbard, Huntsville’s Shane Justis and Tennessee’s Jim Adduci all had run-scoring hits to give the North a 7-0 lead.
Of particular interest to the Cubs, right-hander Casey Coleman pitched the second inning and needed 12 pitches to dispatch the South All-Stars.
He struck out the first two batters he faced, using a sharp curveball to retire Birmingham’s Stefan Gartrell before punching out Mobile’s Cyle Hankerd.
Coleman allowed only a bloop single in a scoreless inning and topped out at 96 mph, at least according to the stadium’s radar gun. Coleman is normally 91-93 mph.
“I knew I had only one inning and went out and let it loose,” said Coleman, who leads the Southern League with nine wins and Smokies starters with a 2.93 ERA. “When you’re starting, you know you’ve got to pitch and brace yourself a little bit, but tonight only going one inning, I just let it loose and hoped to throw strikes and get outs.”
Jay Jackson came on in the fourth inning and threw just eight pitches, topping out at 98 mph on the park’s radar gun. The right-hander worked a perfect inning, striking out Hankerd on three pitches and finishing him off with a swinging strike on a slider.
Jackson was named the winning pitcher as the South Division All-Stars were maimed throughout the night, recording just four hits.
“I got behind Gartrell, but I’m just out here for one inning and trying to make the best pitches I can, and I was just trying to do that,” Jackson said.
“The first hitter was [Mobile's Sean] Coughlin and I threw him a two-seamer away and got strike one. Then I threw him a changeup away that I don’t think he hit too hard; he kind of put it in a decent spot and Bell made a good play.”
Mississippi’s Scott Diamond was awarded the loss, allowing the game’s first run in the second inning courtesy of an RBI single by Huntsville’s Jonathan Lucroy.
Smokies first baseman Blake Lalli started the game at first base and was 0-for-4 with an RBI sacrifice fly as part of the three-run third inning. Second baseman Tony Thomas came into the game and flied out to shallow center in his only at-bat.
Right-hander Brian Schlitter pitched two-thirds of an inning in relief, giving way to West Tennessee’s Anthony Varvaro with one out to go in the ninth.
InsideTheIvy.com correspondent Josh Dorsey in Birmingham contributed reporting.