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Link Report Weekend 9/9, 9/10 -- Stars Move On! Sounds Fall

Mass Haas

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Saturday's Daily Menu: Here's hoping Joe Davis Stadium is rockin' tonight! (And that Round Rock isn't this afternoon...)


All times Central; pitchers subject to change --


Nashville: RHP Justin Lehr at Round Rock (Astros), 12:45 PM pre-game; 1:05 PM gametime; Sounds trail in the best-of-five, 2-1


Audio link:



Huntsville: LHP Manny Parra at home vs. Chattanooga (Reds), 6:50 PM pre-game, 7:05 gametime; Stars lead best-of-five, 2-0


Audio link:


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Follow Saturday's action as it happens:

Here's what you do, right click on each of the links below and choose "Open in New Window". Open the Nashville Gameday. For the others, choose "Log". While you're listening to your minor league game of choice (or watching/listening to the big league Crew when they are playing), simply refresh your game log browsers every so often.








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This link will be included in each daily report when the Nashville Sounds and/or Huntsville Stars are scheduled to play. Normally it is updated an hour or two prior to gametime:


Nashville Media Notes (Adobe .pdf format):




Following Nashville's lead, Huntsville now makes its media notes available as well, nice:




NOTE: Huntsville notes haven't been updated as of this post since 8/24...

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Because we're down to the postseason, we will break from Link Report norm for the remainder of the playoffs, and invite folks to chime in with posts, almost as if this were an in-game Milwaukee thread.


Anybody who's able to listen this afternoon or this evening is asked to pass on updates and any particular news of interest from Chuck with the Sounds and Brett and Bryan in Huntsville.


Go Sounds! Remember kids, it's this afternoon!


Go Stars! Fans of Huntsville, it's Saturday night,

no excuses (spare us the college football cries) -- show up tonight!

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Final: Nashville 2, Round Rock (Astros) 0


Nashville Site Game Summary:

Link for Justin Lehr photo, text follows --




Sounds, Express To Decide Series On Sunday


ROUND ROCK, Texas ? Justin Lehr and the Nashville Sounds accomplished the task at hand on Saturday afternoon at The Dell Diamond, staying alive in the PCL American Conference Finals by posting a 2-0 shutout victory over the host Round Rock Express to extend the series to a fifth and final game.


The win, Nashville?s fifth shutout victory over the Express and 14th overall goose egg of the 2006 season, evened the best-of-five series at two games apiece.


The teams will compete for a berth in the PCL Championship Series at 1:05 p.m. CT on Sunday afternoon in Round Rock.


Lehr (1-0) turned in an outstanding outing, carrying a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh inning before allowing a two-out Eric Munson single in the frame. The right-hander allowed just one single over seven scoreless frames before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the top of the eighth. He walked two and struck out three while throwing 89 pitches on the afternoon.


Veteran team leader Brent Abernathy was a one-man offensive juggernaut for Nashville on the afternoon, recording three of the club?s five hits and driving in both Sounds runs in the contest.


The two teams combined for only one hit through the first six innings of play as Lehr and Round Rock?s Philip Barzilla engaged in a pitcher?s duel. The Sounds made that one hit count, however.


Abernathy gave Nashville a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when he belted a one-out solo homer to left off Barzilla.


AUDIO: Brent Abernathy's Go-Ahead HR --




Abernathy added an insurance run for the Sounds in the top of the ninth when he plated Andrew Beattie with a one-out double to left off Express reliever and former Brewer farmhand Roberto Giron.


Nashville missed a chance to increase its lead to three later in the frame when Abernathy was thrown out at the plate by center fielder Mike Rodriguez on a bang-bang play while attempting to score on a J.C. Boscan single.


Luther Hackman took over on the mound for Nashville in the bottom of the eighth. After giving up a leadoff single to Brian Gordon and advancing him to second with a wild pitch, the right-hander regrouped to strike out the side, fanning Jesse Garcia, pinch-hitter Alan Zinter, and Rodriguez in succession to escape the inning.


The right-hander stayed on for the ninth and the Express loaded the bases with one out against him using a pair of single sandwiched around a walk before Hackman induced a game-ending double-play grounder to third off the bat of Royce Huffman.


By preserving the shutout, Hackman earned his third save in three Sounds appearances, including two this series.


Barzilla (0-1) was nearly as dominant as Lehr but took the hard-luck loss after allowing only one run on three hits while striking out a season-high 10 batters over eight frames of action. The southpaw threw 110 pitches in the contest.


Sounds manager Frank Kremblas was ejected in the middle of the first inning for arguing a check-swing Graham Koonce strikeout call with home plate umpire A.J. Wendel, who failed to call a more obvious check-swing strike against the Express from his post at first base in Friday?s game.


The team will meet one more time in a decisive Game Five of the best-of-five series on Sunday afternoon in a 1:05 p.m. CT matinee at The Dell Diamond. Right-hander Ben Hendrickson (9-8, 3.36 in regular season) will make the start for Nashville and oppose Round Rock right-hander Ezequiel Astacio (8-4, 4.86 in regular season).


Nashville Box Score and Game Log:



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Final: Huntsville 7, Chattanooga (Reds) 2


Huntsville Site Game Summary

link, then text



Stars Complete Sweep of Chattanooga


Brendan Katin knocked in three runs and three relief pitchers worked four scoreless frames to preserve Huntsville?s 7-2 North Division playoff series clinching win over Chattanooga Saturday night at Joe Davis Stadium. The Stars swept three games from the Lookouts, outscoring them 21-5, and will face Montgomery in a best-of-five league championship series starting Tuesday night at home.


Steve Moss led off the home first with a double, stayed put when Callix Crabbe was hit by a Tyler Pelland pitch and moved to third base on a Ryan Braun single. Katin then dumped a shallow fly ball into right field to plate Moss and Crabbe and move Braun to second base. Brad Nelson followed with a double off the wall to score Braun to make it 3-0 and send Katin to third base. Ron Acuna?s sacrifice fly chased home Katin to cap off the Stars third four-run rally in the last four innings.


Javon Moran led off the Lookouts? third inning with a double, moved to third on a Drew Anderson single and both runners scored when Joey Votto doubled into left field to trim the home team?s lead to 4-2. Noochie Varner singled to move Votto to third before Jeff Bannon fanned for the first out of the inning. Paul Janish walked to load the bases but Stars? starter Manny Parra worked out of further trouble by striking out Chris Dickerson and retiring Ryan Hanigan on a ground ball out.


Pelland, Moran and Anderson opened the fourth with singles bringing Votto, the Southern League MVP, to the plate with a chance to change the game. He fouled out to third base, Varner struck out swinging on three pitches and Bannon went down swinging on three pitches to end the threat. The Stars then tacked on three runs in the bottom half of the inning on a two-run bases loaded single by Crabbe and a looping rbi single by Katin into shallow left-center field.


Parra was lifted after five innings during which he allowed two runs on 10 hits. He struck out eight and walked a pair and also walked and scored during the fourth inning rally. The Stars starters allowed three runs on 16 hits, fanned 23 and walked only a pair in a combined 18 innings of work in the series. Matt Yeatman worked two scoreless innings, Chris Mabeus tossed scoreless relief in the eighth and Joe Valentine closed a shutout ninth inning by striking out Bannon to end the game.


The Southern League Championship Series opens on Tuesday night at 6:05 pm with right-hander Tim Dillard taking the hill for Huntsville against a Biscuits? starter to be determined. Coverage of the game begins at 5:50 p.m. central time and can be heard locally on ESPN Radio 1450 AM and through the internet at www.huntsvillestars.com.

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Link while active, text follows:




Stars knock out Lookouts, win series

Huntsville, Montgomery to play for title


Huntsville Times Sports Staff, markcolumn@aol.com


One final strikeout registered, another victim toe-tagged by the Huntsville Stars' pitching staff, and reliever Joe Valentine pumped his fist, embraced catcher Lou Palmisano - and the celebration had officially begun.


"From where we were to what we've done, it's amazing," Valentine said. "From worst to first - and now we're division champs."


The Stars are champs by virtue of their 7-2 victory over the Chattanooga Lookouts on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 1,875, giving Huntsville a 3-0 sweep in the Southern League North playoffs. It was another milestone in this improbable season, the Stars winning their 15th game in 16 starts and earning their third division title in six years.


Said second baseman Callix Crabbe, "We ain't done yet, man. We've made it this far, we might as well try to get something out of it."


For the second straight season, both division series ended in 3-0 sweeps. Montgomery eliminated Jacksonville 2-0 on Evan Longoria's walk-off homer. The Biscuits are nearly as hot as the Stars, having won 16 of their last 19.


The Southern League championship series will begin Tuesday at 6:05 at Joe Davis Stadium, with game two on Wednesday, also at 6:05. The best-of-five series then moves to Montgomery on Thursday.


Huntsville, making its 11th playoff appearance, has three championships - 1985, 1994 and the co-championship in 2001. Three other times the Stars have reached the final round, most recently in 2003, when it lost in five games to Carolina.


"Our ultimate goal is to win the championship. If we don't win the championship, it won't be a success," said third baseman Ryan Braun.


After the Lookouts managed only eight total hits in the first two games at Chattanooga, they bruised Huntsville starter Manny Parra a bit - but he punched right back. He struck out eight and worked out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth by retiring the 3-4-5 men in the order .


Looking around at the bases, Parra thought, "OK, I need to make better pitches." Pitching coach Rich Sauveur visited the mound and said, "You're throwing the ball fine. You just need to keep throwing and hitting your spots. This is the guy you need to get."


"This" was Southern League MVP and batting champ Joey Votto.


With Palmisano urging more off-speed pitches out of Parra, they retired Votto on a pop to third. Parra then struck out ex-Star Noochie Varner and Jeff Bannon. It seemed to take the last bit of air out of Chattanooga.


A two-run bloop single by Brendan Katin, a little sliced wedge shot down the right field line, got the Stars rolling at 2-0 in the first. Brad Nelson followed with an RBI double and Ron Acuna a sacrifice fly.


Parra struggled a tad in the third, giving up a two-run double to Votto that cut the lead to 4-2. Then came his amazing escape act in the fourth.


Lookouts starter Tyler Pelland wasn't such a Houdini. He walked the bases loaded to open the Huntsville fourth, then Crabbe Super-balled a high bouncer over third baseman Bannon, driving in two runs. Katin then singled home another run.

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Stars win division with 15th win in 16 games

Before the first ball was thrown, the Stars had two things going for them tonight.. That is if you believe in fate, karma, whathaveyou....... First, Chattanooga's team bus had a flat coming into town. As a result, they arrived too late to take batting practice....... Second, I coaxed my mother to come with me to the ballpark tonight........ Now, my mother really doesn't like baseball and doesn't know squat about the game. I had to explain to her how to read the scoreboard........ But she had been to only one other Stars game in their whole long history, and that happened to be Game Four of the 1997 Western Division Playoffs against Mobile --- a game you can revisit below by clicking on my choice as the greatest game in Stars history --- a game, and a division title they were one strike away from losing, until Justin Bowles stepped and hit a 3-run HR to tie it in the 9th before Mike Neill's home run in the 10th won it...... The Stars won the next night, and the Division title as well.

My good luck charm in place, the Stars came away with a sweep of the Lookouts, and a chance to win the Southern League Championship in the most improbable 2nd half comeback in Stars history....... They'll face Montgomery, a team that's won 16 of their last 19, Tuesday at Joe Davis Stadium with Tim Dillard (10-7, 3.15) getting the call against a pitcher the Biscuits have yet to announce........ Montgomery, like Huntsville, swept their opponent, Jacksonville (who I'd rather have seen win this series) on a 9th inning 2-run home run by Evan Longoria, the 3rd overall selection in last June's amateur draft.

Everything was marked down as we walked into the Stadium....... The $2 programs were 25 cents, Southern League All-Stars card sets went from $8 to $3, and T-shirts with the Stars logo sandwiched between two words: "2006 PLAYOFFS" were free with a yellow ticket handed out as you stepped through the turnstile........ The skies were cloudy, but the weather a comfortable 84°, with winds blowing lightly to left........ A good crowd tonight, by Huntsville standards. Quite a few Chattanooga fans made the 1½-2 hour trip to fill the seats right behind their team's dugout on the first base side to futilely cheer their team.

The Stars have had a remarkable run, taking the Lookouts 2-0 in the first game in back of Corey Thurman' s 2-hit, 7-inning shutout performance. When we needed him the most, he answered the call with one of his best games of the season....... In Game 2, which I was present for, a pitching duel between Yovani Gallardo and Josh Hall turned into a late-inning rout, as the Stars embarrassed the Lookouts in their own park by scoring all 12 of their runs in the final three innings -- 7 coming in the 9th -- in a 12-3 victory.

Tonight was the night....... They had come too far. 14 wins in their last 15 games. 28-6 since August, and it all started with two 9-8 sweeps against the Lookouts, August 1-2........ The Lookouts were back for the first time since losing both games in the 9th inning.

The Lookouts' pitching in August had fallen flat. They were 14-14 with a 4.30 ERA, and starting pitcher Tyler Pelland was 2-2 with a 7.03 ERA in five August starts...... The Stars found him inviting right from the start.

Steve Moss lined his first pitch for a double to left, his 4th in 8 games this month. Before Pelland could get a single out in the 1st inning, the Stars had taken a 4-0 lead........ He hit Callix Crabbe on the foot with a 2-2 pitch, then Ryan Braun loaded the bases with a well-placed, but not hard-hit single through short into left....... Brendan Katin's two hits put together probably didn't go more than 230 feet, but they drove in three runs. The first, looped into right, scored Moss and Crabbe, moving Braun to 2nd....... Brad Nelson then cracked the first pitch he saw off the wall in left, scoring Braun and sending Katin to 3rd....... Ron Acuna's sacrifice fly to left-center scored Katin with the 4th and final run of the inning, setting the tone for the game, and a message right away to the Lookouts.

They would need all of it....... Manny Parra did not have an easy time with Chattanooga, but credit Manny with this --- when he needed a strikeout, he got it! And he got 8 in his 5 innings of work. He mixed his pitches well. He set up hitters beautifully, using the fast ball to get them with the curve, which was deadly, or using the curve as a set-up for his fast ball, which I believe topped at 92.

In the 3rd inning, with the Stars holding a 4-0 lead, and Pelland, apparently settled down, the Lookouts strung together four straight hits from the top of the order, attacking Parra early in the count....... Javon Moran lined an 0-1 pitch down the left field line for a double. Drew Anderson singled to left-center, and with runners on the corners, SL MVP Joey Votto lined a double into the left field corner, tailing away from Brendan Katin, making it a 4-2 ballgame....... Noochie Varner grounded a single through short into left, and with one out, walked Paul Janish, who was added to the roster from Sarasota, August 31st. That filled the bases with one out........ But Parra ralllied. He struck out Chris Dickerson, who drove in a team-high 11 runs against the Stars during the season, on a 91 mph slider and Ryan Hanigan grounded out to Ryan Braun to end the inning....... After three, Parra had six strikeouts, four of the last five looking.

The Lookouts, fired-up and ready to rally again, loaded the bases in the 4th, and for the most part, swung early....... Tyler Pelland didn't, but he started the rally with a sharply hit grounder on a 3-2 pitch that deflected off Parra's glove to Ozzie Chavez, who couldn't make a play...... Moran's high chopper through the infield near the left field line sent Pelland to 2nd and Anderson's one-hopper to left on Parra's first pitch loaded the bases again with no one out........ Parra had given up 9 hits to this point in 3+ innings. The bullpen was up........ Parra, at the suggestion of Lou Palmisano, then went to his slower stuff, breaking balls....... He got a big out when Votto popped an 0-2 pitch to Braun in foul territory. He then got Noochie Varner swinging at a 78 mph curve and threw three curves to Jeff Bannon, retiring him swinging........ After giving up 9 hits in the first 4 innings, Huntsville's bullpen settled Chattanooga down, allowing just 3 hits to the final 18 batters of the game.

Meanwhile, the Stars stretched their lead in the 4th....... Pelland, who allowed more walks to Huntsville hitters than anyone on the Chattanooga staff this season, and was 2nd in the league to Corwin Malone, could not find the plate and walked the bases full to start the inning, at one point, throwing eight straight balls....... Callix Crabbe then chopped a 3-1 pitch over the glove of Bannon at third into left, scoring Ozzie Chavez and Manny Parra........ It's now 6-2........ In comes 6''7" Justin Mallett, another of many of Chattanooga's late-season call-ups...... He gets Braun to fly out near the foul line in right to Moran, moving Steve Moss to third, but Brendan Katin dropped a hit over short to bring him home for the Stars' final run........ Chattanooga had found the right pitcher too late. Mallett struck out Nelson and Acuna swinging, then retired the side in the 5th........ The Stars were never a serious threat after that, although they had runners on 1st and 2nd with one out in the 7th before Ozzie Chavez hit into a double play....... Matt Yeatman and Chris Mabeus worked three scoreless innings, not allowing a runner to second before Joe Valentine came on in the 9th with the fans over on the third base side, standing, clapping in unison, until he struck out Jeff Bannon with a 96 mph fast ball on an 0-2 pitch, sending Chattanooga home......... Most of their fans by this time had beat them out the gate.

So the Stars now go for the Championship, and who would have thought this would happen in the middle of June, when any team with three or four runs in their pocket against us had the game sewn up........ They went from scoring an average of 3.54 runs on 7.28 hits in the first half to 5.48 runs and 9.11 hits in August, and adding 35 points to their team batting average.

This is the Stars' 11th post-season appearance. They are now 34-32 in the post-season since their first appearance in 1985 (23-20 in divisional playoffs, 11-12 in the LCS).

For a playoff history of the Stars, see www.starsboxscore.com
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Final: Round Rock 8, Nashville 0


Instead of starting a new thread since the game is already over and done with, I wanted to point out that Nashville loses today, 8-0, and therefore is knocked out of the playoffs. The Sounds did a nice job bouncing back in the postseason at least, stretching out the season a few more games when they seemed to be down & out quickly. Ben Hendrickson really struggled after the month of July.


Round Rock's starter, Ezequiel Astacio, on the other hand pitches a gem: A complete game shutout.


Nashville Box Score and Game Log:




Of course, we're already aware of the big-league call-ups that accompanied this loss. It is hard to root against any of the affiliates, but I know I was one among many that wanted to see a few of the players called up for the rest of September (Tony Gwynn Jr. in particular). Drew Anderson of course was a pleasant surprise, while Carlos Villanueva might be up to help the Brewers decide whether or not they want to keep Tomo Ohka around for next year.


Go Stars!


EDIT: Remember when the Brewers were trying to sign J.R. House last offseason? He really had one heck of a year at the plate in the Astros' organization.

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Nashville site Game Summary:

Link for Ben Hendrickson photo, text follows --




Sounds Season Ends With 8-0 Loss To Express


ROUND ROCK, Texas ? The reign is over.


The defending PCL champion Nashville Sounds had their quest to repeat come to an end on Sunday afternoon at The Dell Diamond with an 8-0 loss to the Round Rock Express in the final game of the PCL American Conference Finals.


The victory gave the Express a 3-2 series win and a berth in the PCL Championship Series, where they will face the Pacific Conference champion Tucson Sidewinders in a best-of-five set beginning on Tuesday in Tucson.


Nashville failed in its attempt to advance to the Pacific Coast League Championship Series for the third time in four seasons. The loss also marked the first time since 1984 that the Sounds made the playoffs but failed to advance to the league finals, a span of six postseason appearances.


Express starter Ezequiel Astacio (1-0) threw a gem for the home club, firing a seven-hit shutout ? his first complete game and shutout of the year. The right-hander allowed only three Sounds to reach scoring position on the afternoon. Astacio struck out four and walked one batter during his 111-pitch effort.


Round Rock jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning against Sounds starter Ben Hendrickson. Mike Rodriguez opened the frame with a four-pitch walk and later scored the game?s first run on a Brooks Conrad sacrifice fly. Hector Gimenez, who enjoyed an outstanding series at the plate for the Express (9-for-18, .500), doubled the advantage with a two-out RBI single to right and Royce Huffman followed with a run-scoring knock of his own to up the home team?s advantage to three.


After Hendrickson settled down and tossed three straight scoreless frames through the fourth, the Express doubled their lead to 6-0 in the fifth on former Sound J.R. House?s sacrifice fly and a two-out, two-run bases-loaded single from Jesse Garcia.


Round Rock continued to pull away in the sixth when Joe McEwing slugged a two-run homer to left off Sounds reliever Chris Demaria, making it an 8-0 game. The blast was the infielder?s first of the postseason.


Graham Koonce went 2-for-4 for the Sounds, the club?s lone multiple-hit effort of the afternoon.


Hendrickson (0-1) took the loss for the Sounds after giving up six runs on seven hits over his five frames of action. The six runs matched the most the right-hander allowed in any start for Nashville all season. He walked three batters (all of which scored) and struck out three while hitting two batters on the afternoon.


Baseball returns to Greer Stadium in April 2007 when the Sounds open their 30th season of competition. Season tickets are available now by calling 615-242-4371 or visiting the Greer Stadium box office.


Audio: 2006 Season Highlights



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No game today, as the Southern League championship series between the Huntsville Stars and the Montgomery Biscuits starts tomorrow. Gametime is 6:05 CST.


The Biscuits, like the Stars, are highlighted by quite a few big name prospects. Evan Longoria, the 3rd overall pick in June's draft, is their best hitter, but SS Reid Brignac isn't that far behind him. Towering RHP and former 4th overall pick Jeff Niemann highlights their pitching staff.


Here is the info from the Stars' site:




Stars and Biscuits in Championship Series


The Huntsville Stars have reached the championship of the Southern League and will take on the South division champion Montgomery Biscuits starting Tuesday, September 12th at Joe Davis Stadium at 6:05pm. The Stars swept the Chattanooga Lookouts by a combined score of 21-5, while Montgomery swept the Jacksonville Suns in the South division series.


The Stars are making their 11th playoff appearance and won the Southern League Championship in 1985, 1994, and were co-champs in 2001, while the Biscuits are making their first ever appearance in the championship series. The Stars also reached the championship round three other times, with the most recent coming in 2003 when the Stars were defeated by the Carolina Mudcats in the final game of the series.


The Stars and Biscuits played nine times this season, with the Stars winning four of those games. These two teams do have a history, with the Stars playing the Biscuits in their first ever game at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, a 5-4 Stars victory.


During the second game of the series, Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins will be at Joe Davis Stadium for the BC Headache Powder Pitch For A Million Contest.


Tickets for both games are on sale now by calling the Stars at 882-2562, or you can order online at www.huntsvillestars.com.




Here's MiLB's preview of the series:




Southern League Championship Series Preview

Montgomery Biscuits vs. Huntsville Stars

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com


Montgomery Biscuits vs. Huntsville Stars



Game 1: Tue., Sept. 12 -- Montgomery at Huntsville, 7:05 p.m. ET (Jeff Niemann vs. Tim Dillard)


Game 2: Wed., Sept. 13 -- Montgomery at Huntsville, 7:05 p.m. ET


Game 3: Thu., Sept. 14 -- Huntsville at Montgomery, 8:05 p.m. ET


Game 4: Fri., Sept. 15 -- Huntsville at Montgomery, 8:05 p.m. ET (if necessary)


Game 5: Sat., Sept. 16 -- Huntsville at Montgomery 8:05 p.m. ET (if necessary)


Season series: Montgomery, 5-4.


Due to the odd and unbalanced schedule in the 10-team Southern League, you can pretty much throw out the results since all nine of the teams' head-to-head games (there was a rainout that was never made up) were played by May 11. Many of the top stars on both teams were not involved in any of those contests, among them Montgomery's Game 1 starter Jeff Niemann, pitcher Mitch Talbot who was brilliant in Game 3, infielders Reid Brignac and Evan Longoria, and red-hot hitters Johnny Raburn and Justin Ruggiano, as well as Huntsville's three young starters Yovani Gallardo, Steve Hammond and Manny Parra, slugging third baseman Ryan Braun, and first baseman Brad Nelson, who was the Stars' top hitter in the semifinals.





The Biscuits batted .247 against the Stars in their nine games and posted a 2.77 ERA. OF Jeremy Owens had the most success of any hitter on either team in head-to-head competition, batting .321. 2B Elliot Johnson hit .281 with a pair of homers. DH Michael Coleman hit .273. The only two members of the Montgomery rotation to face Huntsville were ace Andrew Sonnanstine (0-2, 3.95 in two starters) and starter/reliever Tony Peguero (2.70 in two starts).



Given the fact that Huntsville was 24-45 in the first half, it's not surprising that the Stars hit just .202 against Montgomery, though they could boast a 2.34 ERA. RHP Tim Dillard, who did not pitch in the semifinals but is slated to start the opener of the finals, had a 2.38 ERA in two starts, while veteran Corey Thurman had an 0-2 record but a 3.00 ERA in two starts. Among the hitters who are still there, 2B Callix Crabbe batted .200, OF Steve Moss hit .154, C Lou Palmisano batted .063 and OF Ron Acuna batted .188. Only SS Ozzie Chavez had any success with a .290 average.


Who's Hot, Who's Not?



Ruggiano, who had missed the last several days of the regular season with strep throat, returned to face his former team, Jacksonville, and hit a semifinal series-best .417 with three RBIs in three games. Sonnanstine tossed seven shutout innings in his semifinal outing, walking one and striking out nine. Longoria delivered a two-run walk-off homer in the clincher and hit .308 in the semifinals. Talbot, acquired from Houston in the midseason trade for Aubrey Huff, fanned 14 without walking a batter in the clincher, sparkling with a complete game five-hit shutout. Johnson hit .308 in the semifinals while Owens and Raburn both hit .400. Brignac went 0-for-11 in the semifinal series, while Coleman hit just .125 though he did add a homer.



The Stars had brilliant starting pitching in their three-game sweep of Chattanooga. Thurman got things started in the opener with seven innings of two-hit shutout ball. Gallardo went six innings in his start, striking out 10 and giving up one run on four hits in his eighth double-digit strikeout game of the summer. In the clincher, Parra allowed two runs over five innings, fanning eight. Acuna and Nelson each hit .333 in the semifinals, while SS Brendan Katin batted .300 and Crabbe and Palmisano hit .273 apiece. Braun batted just .231 in the three-game set, while Moss hit just .214.


On the mound



Niemann, the announced starter for Game 1, was the Devil Rays' first pick in 2004 out of Rice. Joining the club in late May as he came off of injury rehab, he was 5-5 with a 2.68 ERA in 77 1/3 innings. The Biscuits have not announced the rest of the rotation, but if it follows suit with the semifinal plan, you would see Sonnanstine in Game 2, Talbot in Game 3, LHP Jason Cromer in Game 4 and Peguero in Game 5. Sonnanstine, a Southern League All-Star, was 15-8 with a 2.67 ERA during the regular season. Talbot posted a 1.90 ERA in his time with the Biscuits post-trade, leading all Southern League pitchers with 47 strikeouts in August. Cromer tossed five shutout innings in his last regular-season start to lower his ERA to 2.58. Peguero posted a 2.97 ERA on the season, seeing time in both relief and the rotation.



Gallardo is one of the leading contenders for Minor League Pitcher of the Year with a 1.86 ERA and a Minor League-best 188 strikeouts in 155 innings between Advanced-A Brevard County and Huntsville. However due to his innings total, he may not pitch again this series. The pre-playoff word had been that he would pitch one more game in the playoffs, so his masterful six innings in Game 2 may have been Gallardo's last game. Similarly, Hammond (2.93) was in the same situation, but due to the three-game sweep he did not pitch in the semifinals so would still be available to the Stars when called upon. Thurman was seventh in the league with a 2.96 ERA, as he returned from shoulder surgery which had wiped out virtually all of 2005. Dillard was fourth in the league with 10 wins and had a 3.15 ERA. Parra posted a 2.96 ERA at Brevard before joining the Stars in August and a 2.87 ERA in six starts after that.


At the plate



Brignac was the California League MVP before joining Montgomery, hitting .326 with 21 homers and 83 RBIs there. Combined between the two stops he's ranked among the Minor League leaders in hits (sixth), runs (ninth) and total bases (sixth). Longoria was the club's top pick this past June out of Long Beach State, and he hit six home runs and had 19 RBIs after joining the Biscuits in August. Ruggiano ranked among the Southern League leaders in doubles, on-base average and slugging as well as runs scored between Jacksonville and Montgomery. Raburn, a utility infielder who has been a sparkplug everywhere, hit .290 with 20 steals. Veteran Coleman led the team with 17 home runs. Johnson has power for the middle infield and hit .281 with 15 homers, 50 RBIs and 20 steals.



Crabbe is a force at the top of the lineup with 32 steals, fourth in the Southern League. He hit .361 with 17 of his steals in August alone. Braun, the Brewers' first pick in 2005, joined the team after the All-Star break and hit .309 with 15 home runs and 40 RBIs. Nelson was hot down the stretch with a .333 average, four home runs and 16 RBIs in August.


Points of Interest


Both teams in the all-Alabama championship series were second-half division champions who won their first two semifinal games on the road and came home to complete the three-game sweeps. As a result, even with bumping up the starting date for the best-of-5 finals from Wednesday, Sept. 13, to Tuesday, Sept. 12, both teams will be able to adjust their pitching rotations to their best advantage. ... Huntsville has got three Southern League titles under its belt, most recently in 2001 when the Stars were named co-champions with Jacksonville, as the series was canceled due to 9/11. This is their 11th postseason appearance. ... The Stars got their nickname because of nearby NASA operations.


Series Could Turn On


These two teams are evenly matched and both came into the postseason riding hot streaks. With time to set their rotations to maximum advantage, but with little relevant head-to-head results to go on, this becomes an even harder one to call because of the wild-card status of two of Huntsville's young pitchers, Steven Hammond and Yovani Gallardo. Montgomery, however, is in good shape with five strong starters ready to roll in whatever order the Biscuits see fit to use them, and that's why we're going with this pick.


Our prediction: Montgomery.


Boo to the prediction, although Yo's status as noted in the notes really could make or break this series. Hammond should still have one more start in him, although he hasn't pitched as well down the stretch. Nice to see Dillard ready to go in the first game.


Oh yeah, wouldn't it be pretty cool if Katin WAS a shortstop? http://forum.brewerfan.net/images/smilies/smile.gif

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