SPRINGDALE, Ark. – Northwest Arkansas (33-24) scored five runs in the first inning, fueled by a 3-run home run to center field off the bat of Mike Bianucci, and would go on to add six more runs and defeat the Tulsa Drillers (24-32) on Wednesday night by the score of 11-10. With the victory, the Naturals extend their lead to 3.0 games in the Texas League North Division as the Travelers fell to the Springfield Cardinals in North Little Rock.
Offense would be the name of the game tonight and the Naturals would get the action started in the home half of the first inning. Lane Adams worked a four pitch walk and Raul Mondesi immediately followed with a RBI triple into the right-center field gap to score Adams and make it a 1-0 game. The very next hitter, Alex Liddi, stroked a single to left-center field to score Mondesi and it was 2-0 after three trips to the plate. With two outs in the frame, Bubba Starling would single through the hole at second base to set the stage for Mike Bianucci. The Naturals’ designated hitter connected on a 1-0 pitch from Jose De Leon, the Drillers starter and highly regarded Dodgers prospect, and hit a towering shot over the center field wall to make it a 5-0 game. The home run is Bianucci’s 11th on the season, which puts him in sole possession of the Texas League lead in that category.
The Drillers would climb back into the game with a run in the top of the second and then two more in the top of the third to make it a 5-3 ballgame. Ali Solis provided the RBI single in the second while Hector Olivera, a highly regarded Cuban-prospect who signed a lucrative multi-year contract with the Dodgers in May, delivered an RBI single in the third before another run would score on a passed ball.
The back-and-forth affair would continue as Northwest Arkansas would push another run across with one out in the bottom of the third on an RBI infield single by Kenny Diekroeger that would score Balbino Fuenmayor who had singled to start the frame. The Drillers though would answer again in their half of the fourth behind a two run home run by Jeremy Rathjen to make it a 6-5 game.
After the Naturals extended the lead to 7-5 thanks to a Fuenmayor RBI single that scored Mondesi, the two teams would exchange runs in the fifth. Tulsa scored three times in the fifth to take their first lead of the game at 8-7. Extra base hits provided the response that Northwest Arkansas needed in the home half. Bubba Starling led off the inning with a triple to center and came around to score on a wild pitch. Parker Morin put the Naturals back in front at 9-8 with a RBI triple of his own that scored Diekroeger, whom had doubled in the previous at bat.
The game entered the seventh inning tied at 9 before Tulsa took a 10-9 lead on an RBI groundout by Yadir Drake. As they had all night, the Naturals would immediately respond this time with a solo home run by Lane Adams and eventually the game-winning RBI double by Alex Liddi to score Mondesi. Liddi led the Naturals going 4 for 5 in the game with two RBI while Mondesi and Starling each chipped in three hits apiece. On the night, 11 players between the two teams recorded multi-hit games and runs were scored in every inning but the eighth and the ninth.
RHP Malcom Culver (2-1, 4.18 ERA) got the win while RHP Benino Pruneda (S,2) recorded the save, his second on the season, as the two pitchers combined for 3.0 scoreless innings while only giving up two hits, no earned runs, and striking out one. Jorge De Leon (0-2, 3.38) of Tulsa recorded the loss as well as the blown save in the seventh. The two teams starting pitchers, Christian Binford of Northwest Arkansas and Jose De Leon of Tulsa, combined for 14 strikeouts in their 7.0 innings of work but neither pitcher factored into the decisions.
The Naturals will travel to Tulsa tomorrow to play three (3) games in two (2) days against the Drillers with a doubleheader scheduled for Friday, June 12. Northwest Arkansas will then return to Arvest Ballpark on Saturday, June 13 for a 6:05 p.m. game against the Arkansas Travelers to begin a 4-game series on Star Wars Night Post-Game Fireworks Spectacular presented by Cobb-Vantress.
You can catch all the live play-by-play action on Thursday night with the Voice of the Naturals Benjamin Kelly on your home for Naturals baseball on KQSM 92.1 The Ticket at 6:50 p.m. for the Indigo Sky Casino Pregame Show leading up to the game at Tulsa. The Naturals will sendRHP Luke Farrell (0-1, 3.07 ERA) to the mound to face LHP Eric Stults (1-0, 0.00 ERA) of the Drillers. The game on Thursday is the OnDeck National Game of the Week that will be televised to a nation-wide audience on CBS Sports Network.