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9/05/2010 11:30 PM ET
By Frank Novak / Northwest Arkansas Naturals

SPRINGDALE, AR- Eric Hosmer's ninth-inning RBI double broke a 3-3 tie, propelling the Naturals to a 4-3 win over the Drillers as Northwest Arkansas, for the second year in a row, dashed the Drillers' playoff hopes.

The dramatic win clinched the second half North Division title for Northwest Arkansas and came on a night in which the Naturals honored their one millionth fan in front of a crowd of 8,041, the second highest crowd of the season. The last team to win both halves of their season was the 2008 Frisco RoughRiders. The win also ensures that Springfield will make the post-season as a wild card entry and the Naturals' first round opponent. Game one is Wednesday at 7 P.M. at Arvest Ballpark.

With the win, the Naturals (43-26, 85-54) now claim the best single-season half in the team's short history. Perhaps more impressive, they have won more games than any Kansas City Royals' Double-A affiliate in Royals' franchise history.

Johnny Giavotella, representing the winning run drew a walk off Tulsa Drillers' reliever Chris Malone (3-5) to start the bottom of the ninth. Eric Hosmer followed and laced Malone's 2-1 pitch into deep right field. Drillers' right fielder Bronson Sardinha had a rough time digging the ball up as it rolled to the fence and he couldn't come up with it before Giavotella already was rounding third. He went down into a gliding slide as he crossed the plate and was met by his jubilant teammates ready to celebrate the latest in the long line of accomplishments for this special club.

Tulsa (40-29, 69-69) never led in a game that saw both teams, for the majority of the first eight innings, scratch and claw for three runs a side. The Naturals took the early advantage, getting a run to start the bottom of the first when leadoff man Paulo Orlando drilled his 13th homer of the season, a shot deep over the center field wall. They took a 2-0 lead in the second when Jamie Romak scored from second when Drillers' second baseman Jason Van Kooten bobbled Orlando's grounder.

Sardinha's RBI double in the fourth cut the Naturals' lead to 2-1, and the Drillers were able to come up with a tying run when Jordan Pacheco scored on Scott Beerer's RBI groundout. With two out and Sardinha on third, Naturals' starter John Lamb fanned Jeff Kindel. Manny Pina began to leave the home plate area, apparently losing track of the number of outs. Sardinha broke from third, and Pina recovered from his mistake and helped cut down Sardinha in a rundown.

Drillers' starter Keith Weiser walked in a run with the bases loaded in the sixth to put the Naturals up 3-2, but Weiser managed to get Romak to ground out to end the threat. The Naturals' went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, stranding 11 men on the basepaths.

Matt Repec drew a walk off Naturals' reliever Ben Swaggerty to lead off the seventh and came around to score from second base when Romak was charged with two errors on a hot grounder off the bat of Charlie Blackmon. Romak bobbled the ball and then fired an off-line throw to Hosmer at first base. That ball went wide of the bag and hit the fence on the first base line to tie the game up once more.

Two defensive highlights by the Naturals helped out reliever Barry Bowden in Tulsa's half of the ninth. Right fielder Nick Van Stratten made an amazing sliding catch in right-center on a fly ball from the speedy Michael Mitchell, and, after Bowden walked Jason Van Kooten, Bowden was able to grab a grounder off the bat of Blackmon and double up Van Kooten at second for an inning-ending twin killing. Bowden (1-1), who also kept Tulsa off the board in the eighth, ended up with the win.

Both starting pitchers were effective but neither factored in the decision. Lamb lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and two runs. He walked one and fanned seven. His mound opponent, Weiser, yielded six hits and three runs, two earned, over six innings of work. He recorded a pair of strikeouts and issued three walks.

The Drillers and Naturals will match up one last time as the regular season comes to a close with a 1 P.M. matinee start Monday. Right-hander Eduardo Paulino (7-5, 4.26) is expected to make the start for the Naturals opposite right-hander Greg Reynolds (7-5, 5.00) for the Drillers.

The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark, located in Springdale. The Naturals have a toll-free ticket hotline (1-877-444-2637) for fans to purchase Naturals tickets. Our website, nwanaturals.com offers fans the opportunity to purchase tickets online and avoid lines at the ticket windows by printing their tickets at home or at the office.




 
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