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Trash Pandas hang on, beat Lookouts 3-2 in finale

Rocket City earns split of six-game series in Chattanooga

BOX SCORE

By Aaron Cheris

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee – The Rocket City Trash Pandas used a strong day on the mound, timely hitting at the plate and a little bit of luck in the field to defeat the Chattanooga Lookouts 3-2 in the finale of their six-game series on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Field.

The win gives the Trash Pandas a series split against their North Division foes, with all six games decided by three or fewer runs.

Rocket City wasted no time putting runners on base to start the game, loading the bases in both the first and second inning. But both times, Lookouts starter Connor Phillips labored around the traffic on the basepaths to keep Rocket City off the board.

Trash Pandas starter Mason Erla worked around a little less traffic, as two-out singles gave the Lookouts a runner in each of the first two innings before Erla got the third out of the frame.

The Trash Pandas again began the third by putting men on base. Sonny DiChiara lined a single to left and Jeremiah Jackson reached on an error. Torii Hunter Jr. finally broke through for the Trash Pandas, crushing a double off the wall in right center to plate DiChiara with the first run of the day. Jose Gomez followed with an RBI ground out to score Jackson, putting the visitors up 2-0 in the third.

Pitching with the lead, Erla was strong. He got a double play to get through a scoreless third, navigated around a pair of two-out hits in the fourth. The Lookouts finally broke through in the sixth on Nick Quintana’s RBI single against Erla. After that, he was pulled for Nick Jones. Matt McLain immediately doubled to put the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. Jones was able to hold the lead by striking out Ivan Johnson and inducing a fly out from Allan Cerda, holding a 2-1 Trash Pandas lead after six.

For the Trash Pandas, Erla (W, 4-2) was solid, allowing one run on seven hits without walking a batter and striking out three over 5.1 innings to earn the victory.

Jones returned to the mound in the seventh and allowed a leadoff single to James Free. Then Elly De La Cruz flew out to center and Mike Siani popped up to third for the first two outs. With Kolton Ingram now on the mound, T.J. Hopkins looked to have a single through the right side. However, the ball hit Free between first and second base, ending the inning with a runner hit by a batted ball.

Two walks and a wild pitch put runners on second and third for the Trash Pandas in the eighth. Hunter Jr. brought home the insurance run the Trash Pandas were looking for with a sacrifice fly to right, plating Preston Palmeiro for a 3-1 Trash Pandas lead.

The Lookouts had a chance to tie it in the bottom of the eighth with one out against Ingram, putting runners on first and second with one out. Ingram escaped by getting Johnson to hit a check-swing pop up to first, where DiChiara made the catch and stepped on the base to double off McLain, completing an unassisted inning-ending double play.

In the ninth, Chattanooga got a run back against closer Aaron Hernandez on Siani’s ground out to score Cerda, advancing the tying run to third with two outs. With the game on the line, Hernandez (S, 2) struck out Hopkins, finishing the one-run win and earning his second save of the season.

At the plate, Hunter Jr. led the way for the Trash Pandas, going 2-for-4 with two RBI and a stolen base. In his second professional game, DiChiara went 1-for-3 with a run, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch. Eight of the nine Rocket City starters reached base with either a hit or a walk. As a team, the Trash Pandas left 16 on base, while the Lookouts stranded 10 on the basepaths.

The Trash Pandas (55-41, 14-13 second half) return home to begin a six-game series with the Tennessee Smokies (52-44, 15-12 second half on Tuesday night. First pitch at Toyota Field is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. Josh Caray will be on the call for 103.9 FM THE UMP and 730 AM SportsRadio. The game will also be televised locally on WAAY 31.6, This TV.

On Tuesday night, 1,000 kids ages 17 and under will receive a limited-edition bobblehead of Buzz, the Orange racer that is always in a sprint to the finish in the Trash Pandas’ nightly Astronaut Race, presented by Lexus of Huntsville. Tuesday is also Ladies night, presented by Reeds Jewelers, where ladies will have the opportunity to win great prizes and all fans can enjoy $1 off canned wine.

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