The long ball has not been kind to the Tulsa Drillers so far in the Texas League North Division Playoff Series. In Wednesday's series opener, Tulsa fell victim to a barrage of home runs. On Thursday, it was a ninth inning blast from Arkansas' Cyle Hankerd that did the Drillers in.
With the score tied 1-1, two runners on and two outs in the frame, Hankerd took a 2-2 offering from Drillers closer Cole White the other way, depositing it in the grass berm beyond the right field wall for a three-run, game-winning homer.
Arkansas' closer Mike Morin came on and set down Tulsa in order in the home half of the ninth to secure a 4-1 victory for the Travelers at ONEOK Field.
With the loss, Tulsa finds its season on the brink. With the heartbreaking defeat, the Driller are now in a 0-2 hole in the series and now have to hit the road for the final three games in Little Rock.
Tulsa jumped ahead in the game with a run in the first, but missed a good opportunity to tack on a more. Cristhian Adames walked with one out in the inning, and Kyle Parker followed with a broken-bat blooper into shallow center that fell just out of shortstop Jimmy Swift's reach for a base hit. Kiel Roling came up after Parker and ripped an RBI double to deep center to give the Drillers a 1-0 lead.
Arkansas starter Lay Batista hit Tyler Kuhn with the next pitch to load the bases with one out, but was able to get Angelys Nina to hit into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Like a broken record, Tulsa's archenemy Randal Grichuk hit yet another home run off Drillers pitching in the fifth to square the game at 1-1. Grichuk, who was recently named TOPPS co-Texas League Player of the Month with Drillers outfielder Kyle Parker, has now hit 13 homers against Tulsa this season, 11 of which have sailed out of ONEOK Field.
Grichuk's homer was the only run allowed by Drillers starter Tyler Matzek. The left-hander turned in a gutty performance, scattering seven hits and striking out three in the no decision.
After missing a run-scoring opportunity in the first, Tulsa thwarted a similar Arkansas advance in the seventh. Dan Houston came on for Matzek to begin the inning. Four batters later, the reliever found himself in a one-out, bases loaded situation with the Travelers' dangerous cleanup hitter C.J. Cron coming to the plate. The veteran managed to wriggle out of the tough spot unscathed, however, as he got Cron to hit into a double play to end the inning.
The score remained tied until the ninth inning homer by Hankerd. With one out, Carlos Ramirez singled to left. Grichuk followed by grounding into a force out to effectively trade places with Ramirez at first base. White then issued a walk to Taylor Lindsey to put two on for Hankerd, setting the stage for the game-winning clout.
Tulsa must now win three games in a row to win the series and continue their season.
First pitch of Game 3 is scheduled for 7:10PM Friday night at Little Rock's Dickey-Stephens Park. Tulsa will send top prospect Eddie Butler (1-0, 0.65 ERA) to the mound as the club looks to avoid elimination in the division series for the second year in a row. Arkansas will counter with another top prospect in Mark Sappington (1-1, 3.86 ERA).
NOTE: Attendance was 4,036 for the game, bringing the season attendance total at ONEOK Field for Drillers games to 401,364. It marks only the second time in the 100-plus year history of Tulsa professional baseball that attendance has topped 400,000 for a season.