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Fast start leads Trash Pandas to 9-5 in playoff game 1 win

By Aaron Cheris

KODAK, Tennessee – The Rocket City Trash Pandas took the lead on the game’s second pitch and led from start to finish, holding on at the end for a 9-5 victory over the Tennessee Smokies in Game 1 of the Southern League North Division Series on Tuesday night at Smokies Stadium.

With the win, the Trash Pandas will have an opportunity to close out the best-of-three series on Thursday night in Game 2 at Toyota Field, with Chase Silseth scheduled to get the start.

The Trash Pandas got off to a dream start. On the first pitch of the game by Smokies starter Riley Thompson (L, 0-1), Zach Neto’s hard ground ball went past diving Tennessee third baseman Jake Slaughter and into the left field corner for a leadoff double. Preston Palmeiro teed off on Thompson’s next pitch for a towering two-run homer to right, giving the Trash Pandas a 2-0 lead two pitches into the game.

Rocket City southpaw Ky Bush got the nod on the mound and got off to a rocky start, walking leadoff hitter Yonathan Perlaza. The next hitter, Slaughter, worked the count to 3-1 before Bush rebounded to strike him out. The Rocket City southpaw retired the next two men to end the inning and maintain the lead.

In the second, Jordyn Adams lifted a high fly ball down the right field line that carried just over the fence and stayed fair inside the foul pole for a solo home run and a 3-0 Rocket City lead, sending the Trash Pandas fans that traveled to Tennessee into a frenzy.

Bush recorded his first one, two, three inning in the third before working into trouble in the fourth. Bryce Ball led off with a single and Chase Strumpf doubled off the wall to put runners at second and third with one out. Again, Bush worked through the jam, this time by striking out the next two hitters on only six pitches to keep Tennessee off the board.

Rocket City extended the lead in the fifth. Adams led off the inning with a double and Bryce Teodosio followed with a broken bat ground ball to third for an infield single. Neto then laced a line drive into the gap in left-center, easily scoring Adams. Initially caught between third and home on the throw back to the infield, Teodosio dashed for the plate and made it home with a head first slide to make it 5-0. Logan O’Hoppe’s ground rule double continued the rally, scoing Neto from second. O’Hoppe would come around himself on a wild pitch, capping the inning’s scoring at 7-0 Trash Pandas.

Bush ended his night on the mound with a pair of strikeouts in the fifth. Over five scoreless innings, Bush (W, 1-0) allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out seven to keep the Trash Pandas in front and earn the win in his first professional playoff game.

In the sixth, Knoxville native Ben Joyce entered for Rocket City and issued back-to-back walks with one out. Cole Roederer got the Smokies back in the game with a three-run homer to right, the first home run given up by Joyce in his professional career. Joyce got an inning ending double play from Harrison Wenson, avoiding further damage.

Tennessee got another run back in the seventh against Kolton Ingram on Jake Slaughter’s RBI ground out. They then brought the tying run to the plate with two outs. However, Ingram got Strumpf to ground out, ending the inning with the Trash Pandas up 7-4. Luke Murphy was next into the game in the eighth and got two quick outs. Wenson singled to extend the inning. But Murphy struck out Zach Davis to end the scoreless inning.

The Trash Pandas got some key insurance in the ninth, as Jeremiah Jackson connected on a two-run triple, his first of the season, with two outs to score Aguilar and pinch-runner Aaron Whitefield, restoring the five-run lead at 9-4. In the bottom half, closer Eric Torres allowed a leadoff home run to Perlaza, then walked Slaughter before getting the first two outs. Strumpf kept the Smokies alive with a single. Torres finished the victory by getting Roederer to ground out, giving the Trash Panada the series edge.

At the plate, six Trash Pandas recorded a multi-hit game, with Neto’s pair of doubles leading the way from the top of the lineup. Adams recorded two extra-base hits with a home run and a double, while Palmeiro’s home run on the second pitch of the night gave Rocket City a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Trash Pandas return home for Game 2 of the North Division Series against the Smokies on Thursday night. First pitch at Toyota Field is set 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.

All fans in attendance on Thursday will receive a limited-edition Let’s Ride Southern League Playoffs rally towel, presented by Parsons Corporation. Thursday is also Burgers & Buds Thursday, where fans can get a Burger and a Bud or Bud light for just $12, available at Dumpster Dive, Gravity Grille or All-Stars concession stands. Great seats are still available for both games and can be found online at trashpandasbaseball.com

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