Whether he knew exactly what he was doing or it was by luck of the draw, Pensacola manager Talmadge Nunnari, with the help of other South Division representatives, picked a balanced, complete All-Star team.
The South division had pitching, speed, defense and plenty of hitting. An early two-run home run by Shreveport-Bossier designated hitter Christopher Garcia off Wingnuts right-hander Nick Singleton set the tone for an explosive night offensively for the South, which beat the North 12-3 in the American Association All-Star game Tuesday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The South had 14 hits and broke it open with a seven-run sixth against two North pitchers, which put it ahead 12-0.
"You can't say anything bad about anybody in this lineup," Fort Worth outfielder John Allen said of his South teammates. "That being said, it's fun to hit, it's fun to be out here."
Singleton, picked to start the game by North manager Marty Scott and leading the league in ERA, wasn't the pitcher many of the fans at Tuesday's game have come to expect. Singleton mostly pitched fastballs and didn't exert himself because he pitches at Pensacola on Thursday.
After getting to a 3-1 count, South leadoff batter David Espinosa hit a double off the left-field wall. Garcia, who was the runner-up to Beau Torbert in the home run derby prior to the game, hit a homer with a little more meaning, driving an 0-2 pitch to the opposite field in left to give the South a 2-0 lead. Garcia was named the MVP after collecting three hits and four RBIs.
"I didn't think I had it," Garcia said of his homer. "I was just trying to have fun and have good at-bats."
Singleton walked the next three batters to load the bases with one out, but he induced a pop-up from Allen, who would do major damage later, and got Hector Bernal to ground into an inning-ending double play.
The North's best chance to rally before the South ran away came in the bottom of the first, when Joe Anthonsen hit a leadoff single before being erased on a double play. Reggie Abercrombie hit a two-out double to give RBI opportunities to powerful Sioux Falls teammates Torbert and possibly Brandon Sing, but Torbert struck out on three Osvaldo Rodriguez pitches.
The South stayed on the attack, gradually pulling away before its big sixth inning effectively ended it. Former Wingnuts outfielder Greg Porter, now playing first base for Grand Prairie, started the third with a double against Lincoln's Jim Paduch, who owned the Wingnuts in last season's playoffs. Porter scored on a fielder's choice by Pensacola catcher Lou Palmisano.
The next North pitcher, Sioux Falls' Chris Salberg, also couldn't figure out a way to hold down the South offense. Though he struck out two in the fourth, Salberg allowed RBI singles to Espinosa, the Grand Prairie third baseman, and Garcia.
No pitcher had more problems that Sioux Falls right-hander Ryan Shaver, though. After working around a one-out error in the fifth, Shaver became the first North pitcher to start a second inning. The sixth did him no favors, as the first three batters reached on singles before Garcia provided his fourth RBI with a sacrifice fly.
Two more singles against Shaver broight in another run, and Shaver was relieved by St. Paul right-hander Jacob Schmidt after a walk loaded the bases. The first pitch Schmidt threw was hit out to center field by Allen for a grand slam that put the South ahead 12-0.
"Bases loaded, you're always looking for something over the plate," Allen said. "It was a good pitch to hit."
It was far too late, but the North mustered some offense in the late innings. Abercrombie hit a solo home run off El Paso's Shaun Ellis in the sixth, and an inning later St. Paul outfielder Jason Cooper matched Abercrombie with a solo shot against Pensacola's Ron Hill. The North added a run in the ninth on a fielder's choice.
Besides Singleton, the Wingnuts were represented in the game by catcher Jeff Christy and reliever Justin Dowdy, along with injured shortstop Josh Horn. Christy was the reserve catcher and grounded into a double play in the seventh inning before grounding out to end the game. Dowdy pitched a scoreless ninth with the North trailing 12-2.
Two North rallies were thwarted by diving catches in center field by Grand Prairie's Robert Perry.
Skills competitions — Torbert won the home run derby despite having to endure three "blast-off" rounds when he ended each round tied.
Torbert and Garcia both hit five homers in the final round, forcing a sudden-death situation. After Garcia made an out on his first swing, Torbert hit a long drive to left to win. Torbert held off Sioux Falls teammates Abercrombie and Sing in prior rounds, while Garcia emerged from a South group including Benji Johnson and Adolfo Gonzalez.
Palmisano won the catcher accuracy throw, in which catchers aimed at targets near second base while blindfolded. Palmisano followed up a 10-point first round with seven points in the second, good enough to beat Christy.
The game was also preceded by a relay contest, won by South representatives Johnson, Gonzalez, Espinosa and Hector Bernal.