(HUNTSVILLE) - Matt LaPorta homerred twice and Joe Bateman helped stave off a late rally to preserve Huntsville's 8-6 win in the rubber game of an important five-game series against the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, Monday night at Joe Davis Stadium.
In winning the 5th and final game of the series, the Stars (39-26) moved back into 1st place in the Northern division with 5 games left in the 1st half.
LaPorta's lead-off long ball in the 2nd inning staked the Stars and Donovan Hand to a 1-0 lead. His lead-off homer in the 6th sparked a 5-run rally in the 6th that gave the Stars an 8-3 lead.
Hand, a 14th round pick in last year's amateur draft, shut out the Diamond Jaxx through 5 innings before two singles and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the 6th. Johan Limonta singled to center to drive in Mark Kiger, knocking the Hatton High grad out of the game.
Patrick Ryan (2-2) took over, but could not preserve the Stars' 3-0 lead. An RBI single by Kevin Reynolds and a grounder by Matt Mangini tied the game. Ryan worked out of further trouble when Mangini was stolen out trying to steal and Luis Valbuena struck out to end the inning.
Ryan vultured the win when the Stars scored in the bottom half of the 6th. LaPorta's home run off Craig James (1-3) gave the Stars back the lead, 4-3. A throwing error by James scored Mike Bell, who singled and Cole Gillespie who reached on Mangini's fielding error. Michael Brantley doubled home Chris Errecart, whose sac bunt was thrown away by James. Brantley scored on Mat Gamel's two-out single, his 99th hit of the season, giving the Stars an 8-3 edge.
West Tennessee starter Denny Stark lasted 4 innings. He yielded 3 runs, two earned, on 4 hits and a pair of walks.
Robert Hinton followed Ryan in the 7th. He was removed after the Diamond Jaxx scored on his two walks.
He was followed by Joe Bateman, who gave up a looping single to Mike Wilson that loaded the bases. Adam Moore bounced into a force out at second to knock in a run and Limonta followed with a single to drive in Kiger to cut the lead to 8-5.
Brent Johson's RBI hit with one out in the 8th trimmed the margin to 8-6 before Bateman retired the next five hitters in a row, four by strikeout, to give him his first save since April 16.
The Stars now travel to Jacksonville, where they have lost 9 of their last 10 games as they try to hang on to their one-game lead.
The Diamond Jaxx return home to Pringles Park to host the Chattanooga Lookouts, who are 4 games back in 4th place. Left-hander Steve Hammond (6-3, 3.54) will face Jacksonville right-hander B.J. LaMura (1-0, 4.85) when the series starts Wednesday at the Baseball Grounds.