Minor League Playoffs

Over the weekend, the Royals AAA affiliate moved forward to their league’s championship series while the AA affiliate’s season came to a close. Below are the respective press releases from both clubs:

Kila

Ka’aihue Powers Chasers into PCL Championship Series
Dramatic walk-off home run in 10th gives Omaha American Conference Title

Mike Feigen / Omaha Storm Chasers

OMAHA, Neb. — Kila Ka’aihue has been a man of few words this season, so it was no surprise that with the Chasers on the brink of a playoff series victory, he let his bat do the talking. Ka’aihue’s 316-foot drive down the right-field line had just enough juice to hit the foul pole, giving the Storm Chasers a dramatic 4-2 series-winning victory over the Round Rock Express in 10 innings Saturday afternoon at Werner Park. Video clip of Ka’aihue HR

Long before the Chasers celebrated their win, the hero of the day was Omaha right-hander Sean O’Sullivan. Tasked with holding back the potent Express offense, O’Sullivan carried a perfect game into the seventh inning and a no-hitter into the eighth, with the Chasers clinging to a 2-0 lead.

However, with just six outs to go, disaster struck. Joey Butler hit a grounder directly at second baseman Kurt Mertins, who was unable to field it and was charged with an error. No-hitter still intact, O’Sullivan then served up a mammoth two-run home run to Luis Cruz, knotting the game at 2-2 and giving Round Rock its first hit of the day.

O’Sullivan bounced back to close out the inning, but the damage had been done. Not only had the dream of a no-hitter been dashed, but the Chasers were in jeopardy of losing the game altogether. O’Sullivan finished his day with eight innings pitched, giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts.

After each team got two runners on in the ninth but couldn’t score, Kevin Pucetas (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 top of the 10th to set up the game-winning sequence.

With one out, Clint Robinson drew a five-pitch walk, bringing Ka’aihue to the plate. He worked the count to 1-1 before connecting off Round Rock’s Tanner Scheppers (0-1) to end the game, setting off a celebration at home plate and an even more wild party in the clubhouse moments later.

The walk-off home run was Ka’aihue’s second of the season at Werner Park, also delivering on June 28 against Memphis. Over his last two games, the left-handed swinging first baseman has gone 3-for-6 with two homers and six runs batted in, picking up a two-run homer and two-run double in Friday night’s extra-inning loss.

With the 3-1 series victory, the Chasers advance to their first-ever PCL Championship Series in their 14th season in the league. They also earned their first postseason series victory since 1990, when they won the Triple-A Championship as a member of the American Association.

The Chasers will begin the PCL Championship Series at home, as they host either the Reno Aces or Sacramento River Cats. Games 1 and 2 will be played Tuesday, September 13 and Wednesday, September 14 at Werner Park, with both games scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

Travs win, bounce Naturals from playoffs
Jimenez’ two homers, four RBI end up the difference

SPRINGDALE, AR – The Naturals, like so many times late this season, fell behind early and mounted a spirited comeback. But unfortunately the magic ran out as they fell 9-5 to their in-state rival Arkansas Travelers, as the Travs advance to the Texas League Championship Series.

A first inning error gave the Travelers an extra out to work with and they capitalized as Luis Jimenez gave the Travs the early lead with a three-run homer off Jeremy Jeffress with two out in the frame.

That put the Travs up 3-0 and gave their starter Eddie McKiernan some backing. McKiernan, who had a dubious start to the season for North Little Rock had limited the Naturals to just four runs in his past three starts against Northwest Arkansas. In the past two his team had staked him to a lead before he toed the rubber, and Saturday was no different.

North Little Rock got three more in the fourth before the Naturals began to claw their way back. But in the top of the fourth, Jeffress allowed a leadoff single to Alberto Rosario who would come around to score on an RBI single from Matt Long. An RBI groundout later and the Travs owned a 5-0 lead. Gabe Jacobo also added a two-out RBI single to score another run which chased Jeffress, who was on a limited pitch count and was relieved by Kendal Volz.

The Naturals finally began to get to McKiernan in the bottom of that same frame as Tim Smith led off the inning with a solo homer to right to cut the lead to 6-1. Jamie Romak and Paulo Orlando followed with back-to-back singles and Wil Myers was plunked. Jeff Bianchi followed and one of the pitches to him went wild to score Romak for a 2-0 lead. Bianchi grounded out to score Orlando and cut the Travs’ lead to 6-3, but McKiernan was able to get Mario Lisson to strike out and Ryan Eigsti to fly out to prevent further damage as the Naturals failed to claw closer in the frame.

One thing that ultimately kept the Naturals from closing the gap was struggles with runners in scoring position as the team was 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position Saturday as opposed to 5-for-16 for North Little Rock.

One of the other things was Luis Jimenez. The Travelers’ third baseman drove in his fourth run of the game to leadoff the fifth as he took Volz deep to extend the lead to 7-3.

Christian Colon’s one out single in the fifth ultimately chased McKiernan and prevented him from collecting the win. Instead that went to the tallest pitcher in the minors, Loek Van Mil, who relieved to pitch to Tim Smith, who had taken McKiernan deep earlier in the game. Smith lined out sharply as Travs’ shortstop Darwin Perez speared the ball and took away a hit from Smith and, with Colon at second after a wild pitch, likely a run from the Naturals.

One inning later the Naturals did get a pair and close to within 7-5, the closest they’d get in the ballgame. Jeff Bianchi had an RBI double and Eigsti plated a run on a groundout.

But in the top of the eighth, North Little Rock put two more runs on the board and that seemed to take the wind out of the Naturals’ sails. Facing Ryan Dennick, a lefty reliever making his Double-A debut after spending all season with Advanced Class-A Wilmington, Dennick allowed a one-out single to Darwin Perez and a two-out RBI double to Roberto Lopez. Dennick walked pinch hitter Chris Pettit and then Gable Jacobo doubled to the left-field wall to score Lopez.

An eighth inning single by Paulo Orlando was the lone hit the Naturals recorded the rest of the way as their season ended at the hands of the Travelers, who earn their second trip to the Texas League Championship Series in the past four seasons. They beat the Frisco RoughRiders to win the league title in 2008, a playoff run that began with a three-game sweep of the Naturals.

The series will be remembered somewhat for the absence of Naturals’ Pitcher of the Year Will Smith, who led the league in both wins and innings pitched. Smith was shut down at the behest of the Royals and the Naturals had to work without one of their most reliable arms down the stretch. As it was, should the Naturals had forced a game five, they’d have turned the ball over to southpaw Justin Marks, another pitcher who would have been making his Double-A debut.

The 2012 season opener will be on the road as the Naturals open the season with a six-game road trip beginning Thursday, April 5th. The home opener at Arvest Ballpark for the fifth season of Naturals Baseball will be on Thursday, April 12th as the Naturals host the Corpus Christi Hooks. The Naturals would like to thank all their fans and corporate partners for their continued support this season!

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