SAUGET — The Florence Freedom picked up where it left off a year ago on Friday at GCS Ballpark.
Byron Wiley hit a three-run home run and Jeremy Hamilton added a two-run clout as the Freedom defeated Gateway 9-5 in a battle of Frontier League Division leaders before a crowd of 2,865.
Making its first appearance at GCS Ballpark since winning a decisive fifth game in its first-round playoff series a year ago, the Freedom used the long ball against Gateway rookie Brett Higginbotham, as they scored six times in the first five innings to build a 6-2 lead.
The Grizzlies (24-12), coming off a three-game sweep of Evansville, cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Landon Hernandez and run-scoring single by Jet Butler.
But the Freedom (23-14) got a strong effort from its bullpen in the final four innings to preserve the win.
Florence led 6-4 after eight innings, then put the game away with a three-run ninth.
David Harris had the big hit of the inning with a two run single.
Gateway had its chances.
The Grizzlies left runners in scoring position in four innings and stranded a total of 10 baserunners.
"We left 10 runners on base? I guess the positive side in that was that we got the hits to have runners on base," Gateway manager Phil Warren said. "The runners stranded didn't cost us the game. This was a team loss tonight.
"Poor situational hitting, the pitching ... it was all part of it. But it's only one game."
Landon Hernandez hit a pair of solo home runs and Vladimir Frias had a sacrifice fly to account for the Grizzlies other three runs.
A 22-year-old submariner who played his college baseball at Stephen F. Austin University, Higginbotham made his second start of his professional career Friday.
The rookie worked five scoreless innings in a 9-5 Grizzlies win at Joliet on June 22.
The Freedom scored an unearned run off Higginbotham in the first inning, as Wiley bounced a two-out single through the left side of the Grizzlies' infield.
Gateway tied the game in the bottom of the second on a bunt single by Butler, a double by Jon Myers and a sacrifice fly from Frias.
Florence retook the lead in the third. Singles by Junior Arrojo and Jeremy Hamilton put runners on first and third and with two outs, Wiley took an 0-1 Higginbotham pitch over the left-field wall for a 4-1 lead.
Hernandez made it 4-2 in the fourth inning with his seventh home run of the season. But Hamilton made the lead to 6-2 with his two-run home run in the fifth.
The game on Friday was a homecoming for Freedom catcher and former Belleville East standout Jim Jacquot.
In his second season with Florence, the 25-year-old Jacquot entered Friday hitting .220 with two home runs and 13 RBI.
After graduating from Belleville East, Jacquot attended Southwestern Illinois College and played his final two years of college baseball at Cincinnati.
He was then signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Chicago White Sox in 2010.
Jacquot went 0-for-4 with a walk against the Grizzlies.