Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Emotional Win Keeps Suns Alive

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Emotional Win Keeps Suns Alive

Article excerpt

Byline: Bryan Mullen, Times-Union sports writer

It sounded like a cliche, a phrase hundreds of coaches use to describe a huge win.

But when Jacksonville Suns manager John Shoemaker said, "Our guys did not quit," following his team's biggest win of the season on Sunday night, it was obvious he was sincere. He shook his head, swallowed hard, and appeared on the verge of tears.

It's that emotion, coupled with the close-knit team feeling and the fatherly leadership of Shoemaker that helped catapult the Suns into tonight's Southern League Championship series. It's the same emotion that could help earn rings for the 2001 Jacksonville Suns.

Jacksonville faces the Huntsville Stars in Game 1 of the series at 8:05 tonight in Huntsville, Ala. Both teams are coming off Game 5 wins on Sunday in their best-of-five divisional series. The Stars defeated Birmingham to claim the Western Division, while the Suns won the final two games of the Eastern Division against Chattanooga, including a 12-inning affair late Sunday night.

"This was an emotional Chattanooga series," Shoemaker said an hour after Sunday night's game, sitting in his office and looking drained. "The biggest thing for us to overcome coming into the championship is a little bit of a mental letdown. This Chattanooga series took a lot of energy out of us. We need to get refocused and revitalized."

Two of the Suns games against Chattanooga went into extra innings. On Friday, Jacksonville lost a heartbreaker in 15 innings, and then rode a bus for eight hours back to Jacksonville, and, down 2 games to 1, faced a must-win in Game 4. After pulling out the win, they were back at it on Sunday night, still fatigued, but they mustered enough energy to beat the Lookouts in 12 innings to claim the Eastern Division title and advance to tonight's championship series.

"We talked about it before Game 4," said Shoemaker, who recently was named the Southern League manager of the year. "You need energy, execution, and everybody pulling for everybody. If you do that every game, you have a chance of winning."

The Suns will need those same qualities in every game against Huntsville. The Stars are the only team in the league Jacksonville did not have a winning record against during the regular season.

The Suns lost three of four in Huntsville in early August, though they were only outscored 12-10. In early April, the teams split a four-game series at Wolfson Park, but both team's rosters have changed drastically since their first meeting. Only one of the four Suns pitchers who picked up a win or loss in the early series is still with the team.

"They had quite a lot of movement within their system, and we did, too," Shoemaker said. "When we played them in August, we weren't playing out best baseball. This is a team [the Stars] which pitches well and comes up with timely hits. …

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