37th time the charm for NW Arkansas

Naturals headed BACK to Texas League Championship
09/14/2010 12:04 AM ETBy Frank Novak / Northwest Arkansas Naturals

SPRINGDALE, AR- The Naturals and Springfield Cardinals split their first 36 meetings between the regular season and playoffs right down the middle.They couldn't split the 37th meeting, so after staking Springfield to a 1-0 lead, the Naturals scored four runs and chased Springfield starter Trey Hearne before he even recorded an out en route to an 8-4 win in game five of a best-of-five opening playoff round at Arvest Ballpark. The win sends the Naturals back to the Texas League Championship Series, where they'll meet the Midland RockHounds, still with many of the same players that vanquished the Naturals last September.

Meanwhile, Naturals' starter Mike Montgomery, coming off one of the worst starts of his season last Monday in the regular season finale vs. Tulsa, got the game safely in the hands of the Naturals' bullpen and Henry Barerra, who showed the form that made him so dominating late in the regular season and kept Springfield hitless the rest of the way.

The Cardinals had gotten the early lead on a two-out RBI double by Andrew Brown in the first inning. That scored Matt Carpenter who had reached on a force out. Naturals' right fielder Nick Van Stratten helped quash anything further by delivering a great throw from right-center to Chris McConnell at shortstop, who nailed Andrew Brown at third trying to stretch his hit into a triple.

Derrick Robinson immediately led off the bottom of the first with a single as the first five batters reached safely against Hearne. Johnny Giavotella and Eric Hosmer both drew walks and Clint Robinson followed with a two-run double. Van Stratten followed and singled up the middle and Robinson came in when Springfield outfielder Daryl Jones misplayed the ball.

Cardinals manager Pop Warner wasted no time lifting Hearne in favor of reliever Kevin Thomas, making his second appearance in the Texas League. Paulo Orlando greeted him with a single and both runners moved up 90 feet on a successful sacrifice bunt from Manny Pina. Springfield elected to walk Anthony Seratelli intentionally and then Thomas fanned McConnell and retired Derrick Robinson on a groundout to strand the bases loaded.

It didn't end up making too much of a difference, however, as the Naturals, already owning a 4-1 lead, added three in the second. Giavotella was plunked to start the frame and Hosmer walked. Clint Robinson singled to left scoring Giavotella to put the Naturals up 5-1. After a sacrifice bunt by Van Stratten, Thomas intentionally walked Paulo Orlando to get to Manny Pina who had been hitless in the series. Pina then delivered his first hit, a two run single, to put the Naturals up by six.

True to form, Springfield would not give up as they plated two runs in the top of the fourth. Pete Kozma led off with a single and Matt Carpenter followed with a infield bunt single with bother runners moving to second and third on a throwing error by Anthony Seratelli. After Andrew Brown fanned, Montgomery threw a wild pitch allowing Kozma to score and move Carpenter to third. Aaron Luna then drew a walk before Chris Swauger delivered a sacrifice fly to left to score Carpenter to cut the Naturals' lead to 7-3.

Springfield would add another run to their tally in the seventh as Xavier Scruggs blasted a solo home run to right field off of Mike Montgomery to bring the Cardinals within three runs. Daryl Jones followed with a double to chase Montgomery from the game. Henry Barrera came in out of the bullpen and promptly walked Nick Derba to bring the tying run to the plate. That was Jermaine Curtis, batting over .400 for the series. Curtis blistered a ball to third for an inning ending double play as Seratelli caught the ball on the fly and touched third before Jones could dive back safely to end the inning.

Thomas completed five innings out of the bullpen for Springfield and got the ball to Thomas Eager, who kept the Naturals' offense off the board for the fourth straight inning in the sixth. Anthony Seratelli, who led off the seventh right after his spectacular defensive play which saved a run, drilled the first pitch he saw from Eager to right field for a solo homer, his third of the series to put the Naturals up 8-4.

Barrera worked around one lone walk in 2 2/3 innings to earn the save and close out the win for the Naturals and Montgomery, who finished with seven hits and four runs (three earned) allowed in 6 1/3 innings. He walked only one and fanned six and was credited with the win.

After last Wednesday's rainout, there will be no off-day for the Naturals before they meet the Midland RockHounds to decide the Texas League Championship. Game one is Tuesday night at 7 P.M. Left-hander Danny Duffy (5-2, 2.95) is set to go for Northwest Arkansas. Duffy pitched well in a no-decision in his first round playoff start, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing just one unearned run while fanning 10 batters. The Naturals were 6-6 against Midland in the regular season.

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, 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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