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Link Report Thurs. 9/6 - Manatees Take Series; Helena a Wild Win

Mass Haas

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Stars' late rally can't overcome slow start in playoffs' opening game


For the Huntsville Times


As Steve Sollmann rounded first base in the eighth, the Stars' comeback hopes evaporated as the ball he'd just smacked rested in the right fielder's glove.


The inning and bases-loaded threat ended, and Sollmann's head fell along with the Stars' best chance to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five playoff series with Tennessee.


Instead, the four-run hole the Stars and starter Sam Narron dug for themselves in the first inning stood as the Smokies won 6-3 in front of 1,182 fans at Joe Davis Stadium.


"I got a good pitch to hit and just didn't hit it as well as I'd hoped," Sollmann said. "You just keep trying to play the game like you have all year, but in the playoffs, you're a little more amped up."


Some of that adrenaline might've backfired a little on Narron.


When Tennessee third baseman Casey McGehee trotted down to first base on a two-out, first-inning walk, it seemed harmless enough.


But this is the playoffs, where everything is magnified, and momentum flip-flops like a switch hitter.


After being one pitch away from a 1-2-3 inning, Narron was stunned for five consecutive hits and four runs. Huntsville never caught up.


"That's one of the cardinal rules of pitching - you don't walk guys with two outs," Narron said. "They've got a good lineup, and when you put guys on, they're going to make you pay."


That first-inning flurry, coupled with a brilliant performance from Smokies starter Mark Holliman, doomed Don Money's Stars. Holliman handcuffed Huntsville with seven stellar innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs.


Leading up to the series, the Stars seemingly held a huge advantage.


Huntsville won the season series 12-6, going 7-1 at home and outscoring the Smokies 74-49 in the process. Not only that, Narron had a 1.61 earned-run average in four starts against them, and he was fired up to get the Game 1 nod.


"It's always nice to start the first game," Narron said. "You've got to try to give your team a chance to win. Unfortunately, I didn't do my job tonight."


Narron didn't pitch too badly other than the momentary lapse. But he did allow another run in the fourth before departing after eight hits and five runs (four earned).


Unfortunately for the Stars, Holliman began cruising with the cushion. He didn't quite match his form of June 21, when he tossed a seven-inning no-hitter against Huntsville in Sevierville, but he was still plenty good enough.


When the bullpen came in, though, the Stars put plenty of runners on. They scored a single run in the eighth before Sollmann's rope failed to find outfield grass following his seventh-inning RBI.


Huntsville put two more runners on with nobody out in the ninth, but it couldn't capitalize.


"You dig yourself a pretty deep hole early," Money, the Stars manager, said.


"But we came scratching back and had chances. It was just too tough to come back."


Now, Huntsville will be forced to play catch-up - a tall order in such a short series. The good news, at least, is three of the remaining four will be played at home, with Game 2 coming tonight at 7:05.

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