FIVE COUNTY STADIUM/ZEBULON The Carolina Mudcats are playing their penultimate game in the Southern League tonight.

Mudcats manager David Bell

The guests are the Mississippi Braves, the most far-flung team in the league, a club that flew into RDU for the four-game series.

The SL’s mandate that the Mudcats go airborne for trips to Alabama and Mississippi was among the reasons Steve Bryant sold his Double-A franchise to an outfit that’s going to make them the Pensacola (Fla.) Blue Wahoos next season.

So next season the Mudcats will be in the Carolina League, as the old Kinston Indians will become the new Class-A Mudcats. And the Cincinnati Reds affiliation is traded in for the Cleveland Indians.

For this game, Pedro Villarreal (7-3, 4.20) will take on the Braves’ Aaron Shafer (2-2, 4.38). And we’re going to have the last fireworks show of the season when it’s over, in front of one of the biggest crowds of the year at 7,201.

The Mudcats trail by six runs going into the bottom of the eighth, but score five to make it close before falling 8-7.

Mississippi scores then one at a time early to take the lead. The Braves put one up in the second as Donell Linares leads off with a triple to left and scores on Mathew Kennelly’s one-out grounder to short.

The Braves add another in the fourth on a two-out homer to right from Cary native Cory Harrilchak.
Carolina’s Bill Rhinehart is ejected after arguing balls and strikes in the fourth inning and replaced by Jake Kahaulelio.

Mississippi makes it 3-0 in the fifth when Jordan Kreke leads off with a homer to left.

Mark Fleury homers for the Mudcats with one out in the bottom of the frame to make it 3-1. Carolina then adds another in the sixth as Kahaulelio singles with one out and scores on Cody Puckett’s two-out double.

But the Braves get it going again in the seventh. Mississippi scores five runs, four of them coming on Ed Lucas’ one-out grand slam to left.

The Mudcats rally in the eighth to give the fans a show. Eric Campbell hits a two-run single with one out, and then Cody Puckett greets Kenshin Kawakami with a two-run homer. Didi Gregorius adds a two-out RBI single before the Braves shot down the rally.

One more home game in the Southern League.

They said it …

Mudcats manager David Bell: “It’s been an incredible three years here (with the Reds.) I don’t know if I’m just lucky, but we’ve had a great bunch of guys who have made my job enjoyable no matter what’s gone on with the results. The atmosphere has always been really positive and the players and the Reds’ organization deserve a lot of credit for that. The people that run this (Mudcats) team do such a phenomenal job that it makes it easy to overlook the travel. We’ve been treated great, and the ballpark and the fans have been great. There’s no perfect situation, but this is about as close as you can get. I have nothing but good memories from here and it’s been because of the people.”

Mudcats hitting coach Ryan Jackson: “I absolutely loved being in the area (as a Duke alumnus and former Durham Bull), this area is great. The only problem has been the travel. Everything else has been a great experience all around. I keep ending up back in the area, so I’m sure I’ll be back again somehow.”

Kahaulelio: “Change is always good in baseball. The shorter travel is going to help the team out next year. It’s going to be fun, but I had fun here. It’s different and that’s what’s cool about it. I met a lot of good people. I ate Smithfield’s (Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q) today for the first time, which was delicious. But a lot of food. I ordered just a platter and it came with everything.”

What does it all mean?
That the Mudcats are fighting hard to the end despite being assured the league’s worst final record at 53-85.

Stars of the game

1. Lucas.
2. Puckett.
3. Harrilchak.

Play of the game

Lucas’ grand slam.

Series record

Mississippi leads 6-3.

Mudcats: Lost 1.
Mississippi: Won 1.

On deck
Mudcats (Curtis Partch 2-1, 7.36) vs. Mississippi (Jose Lugo 3-4, 2.73) , noon.