After beginning their five-game series against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on Wednesday tied for first place and coming off a four-game sweep of the Springfield Cardinals, the Tulsa Drillers felt pretty good about their chances in the first-half pennant race. But four days later, those positive feelings were nowhere to be found as Northwest Arkansas completed a five-game sweep of Tulsa to clinch the first-half title in the Texas League North Division as they defeated the Drillers 4-1 in front of a sellout crowd Saturday night at ONEOK Field.
The five-game sweep marked the first time that the Drillers have been swept in a five-game set at ONEOK Field. The last time the Drillers lost five straight to the same team was back in 2006 at Drillers Stadium where they dropped a five-game series to the Springfield Cardinals.
Over the five games, the Drillers offense batted just .220 compared to a .266 clip for the Naturals. Tulsa scored just 11 runs in the series while Northwest Arkansas crossed the plate 24 times. The Naturals had 5 players bat over .300 for the series, led by Corey Toups with a .429 average.
Andrew Sopko for Tulsa and Emilio Ogando for Northwest Arkansas began the game by trading zeroes over the first five innings Saturday, although they did it in very different styles.
Sopko worked in and out of trouble over the first three innings as the Naturals had a runner on third in each of the first three innings. But Sopko managed to wiggle out of trouble each time while keeping the Naturals off the board. Ogando on the other hand was dominant as he didn't allow a Drillers baserunner to reach second until the fourth.
The game changed in the sixth though as Shea Spitzbarth replaced Sopko and immediately ran into trouble. Alfredo Escalera led off the frame with a base hit before Humberto Arteaga brought him home with a triple into center to put the visitors in front 1-0. Donald Dewees Jr. then doubled the Naturals lead with a sacrifice fly to center to put Northwest Arkansas up 2-0.
The Drillers did get a run back in the home half of the inning. Quincy Latimore doubled to start the offense before moving to third on a fly out from Edwin Rios. He then came home on an RBI groundout to third off the bat of Wynston Sawyer to cut the deficit to 2-1.
But that would be as close as the Drillers would get as Samir Duenez extended the Northwest Arkansas advantage with a two-run homer in the seventh off Edward Paredes. Duenez' ninth homer of the year would make the score 4-1 which would end up being the final tally.
Spitzbarth saw his record drop to 0-2 with his second loss of the series while Ogando improved his season record to 4-4 in the division-clinching victory.
The Drillers will now head to Springfield where they will play a four-game series against the Cardinals that will both wrap up the first half and begin the second half. Tulsa has yet to announce a starter for Sunday's series opener while Springfield is scheduled to send out RHP Matt Pearce (5-5, 2.78 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 PM.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.