Jim Haley hit a solo home run and drove in two more runs with a double off the wall as the red-hot Biscuits won the first game 7-1 over the Mississippi Braves in the Double-A South Championship Series on Tuesday night at Riverwalk Stadium.
The Biscuits extended their winning streak to seven with a dominating performance at the plate and a superb pitching performance by Adrian De Horta and three relievers. The Biscuits won for just the eighth time in 25 games against the Braves this season, but started their current streak with two wins at Mississippi.
The Biscuits play their last home game of the season in Game Two of the series on Wednesday night at Riverwalk Stadium at 6:35 p.m. The series then takes a break, resuming on Thursday in Pearl, Miss., at Trustmark Park. The final two games of the best-of-five series, if necessary, will be played in Pearl.
Tuesday’s matchup pitted the hottest team against the best team in Double-A South. The Braves dominated the league this season, leading every day since June 24 except for a two-day stretch on Aug. 5-6 when the Biscuits were in first place. Mississippi’s .604 winning percentage is the best in club history and their 67 wins are as many or more than the records of 10 of the previous 15 team in the program’s history since moving from Greenville, S.C. The Braves (67-44) finished eight games ahead of the Biscuits (62-55), who had the second-best record in Double-A South and didn’t clinch a playoff berth until the final day of the regular season on Sunday.
The first game of the series featured an interesting contrast between De Horta and Mississippi starter Jared Shuster. De Horta was a free agent acquisition of the Rays earlier this season, a nine-year minor league journeyman who has pitched for 14 different teams in his career. The Braves would counter with their top draft pick from 2020, a 23-year-old left hander who was making just his fourth start at the Double-A level after being called up from Rome on Sept. 1.
De Horta (1-0) mixed his pitches and his locations, allowing only a double to Wendell Rijo in the third inning. He struck out seven and walked just one, atoning for the walk by picking off C.J Alexander in the fifth.
Shuster (0-1), meanwhile, went 5.1 innings, allowing a towering blast from Haley in the third inning and back-to-back hits from Xavier Edwards and Jonathan Aranda, both of whom later scored for a 3-0 lead.
Mississippi relievers Odalvi Javier and Sean McLaughlin each lasted a third of an inning, part of a five-run sixth that included RBI hits by Ruben Cardenas and Cal Stevenson off of Javier and Haley’s two-run double that greeted McLaughlin and made it 6-0.
Edwards, Ford Proctor, Cardenas and Haley each had 10 hits off of Braves’ pitching. Mississippi, meanwhile, managed just three hits, getting an unearned run in the seventh on an RBI single by Trey Harris following a Montgomery error.
The only real disappointment for the Biscuits in their sixth consecutive postseason appearance was the crowd of 1,052. Despite both teams’ success this season, attendance has suffered in September as the COVID-adjusted schedule is playing three weeks later than normal, conflicting with football season in the Deep South as both squads attempt to end long championship droughts.
Mississippi hasn’t won a Southern League (now known as Double-A South) championship since 2008. The Biscuits have gone even longer without a title, last capturing the second of two consecutive championships in 2007.