KODAK, Tenn. — Tennessee Smokies' pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts and a no-hitter as they won Wednesday's exhibition game against the Walters State Senators, 7-0.
Senators' head coach David Shelton said he was glad his team had the chance to face professional baseball players and hoped they relished the opportunity.
"This was great experience for our guys and obviously, we knew going in, we were going to be overmatched offensively as their hitters are pretty good," Shelton said. "It was good for our pitchers to get some nerves in them and have a chance to battle through that. It was a little bit of a tight strike zone and I should have warned them coming in that in minor league baseball, they make you throw it across the plate. Sometimes in JUCO, they will give you three or foul balls on either side of the plate because they want to get out of there quick. I would have liked for us to attack their hitters a little bit more."
Shelton said the experience of playing the Smokies will pay dividends down the road.
"We did some little things tonight I think we are normally better at but I think the nerves got to us a little and that was why I wanted to play a game like this," Shelton said. "If we can manage to make it to (the World Series in) Grand Junction and play in front of 12,000 people, those nerves will come back then. So this was a little preparation for that if we can get there."
Smokies manager Jimmy Gonzalez was very complimentary of the Senators and the program they have built into a national powerhouse.
"This was a good game for all of us to be able to get under the lights here in Tennessee, get acclimated to the weather and get some reps in before game one," Gonzalez said. "I have heard some great things about their program and Walters State has a very good team over there. They didn't do as well tonight as they would have liked to but it was good for them to see us and for us to get a game in to get the guys ready for (the season opener)."
The Senators used a full stable of pitchers as Alex Haynes, Kody Davidson, Corey Stone, Zebby Matthews, Bubba Hubbard, Blake Petty, Gage Gillian, Drew Vaden and Jack Collins all toed the rubber for Walters State. The staff had success against the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, as they combined for eight strikeouts, highlighted by Gillian striking out of the side in the sixth inning.
Smokies' starter Tyson Miller went four innings and fanned seven Walters State batters. Michael Rucker, Manuel Rondon and Zach Hedges rounded out the Tennessee pitching rotation in Wednesday's game.
After Christian Donahue drew the walk to start the Smokies' first inning, Nico Hoerner, the Cubs' number two prospect, doubled to left field. A costly error by the Senators allowed both runners to score as Tennessee led 2-0 early on.
The Smokies added two more runs in the third inning. Jared Young walked as did Ian Rice to put two aboard to start the third. Eddy Martinez picked up the RBI with a sacrifice fly to left and Charcer Burks' double to right plated Rice to make it 4-0.
Another run for the Smokies came in the top of the sixth. Burks singled and then stole second and third base. After Connor Mayes walked, Hoerner hit an infield dribbler that the Senators' defense was unable to get to first base in time for the out, resulting in Burks coming home to make it 5-0.
Even though the Smokies led at the end of the top of the seventh, the two teams had agreed to play the bottom half of the inning so the Senators could get more of their pitchers into the game and Tennessee could get some extra swings. The Smokies took advantage of the extra at-bats by plating two more runs. Vimael Machin reached on a fielders' choice and was followed by Roberto Caro's single to right field. Burks drove in his second run of the game with a single to left and Caro scored on a fielder' choice with the bases loaded as the Smokies prevailed 7-0.
The Smokies open the season tonight against the Mississippi Braves. Walters State returns to action this weekend as it takes on Cleveland State beginning on Friday.