Springdale, AR - Tulsa starting pitcher Andrew Sopko came into Thursday night's game against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals looking to reverse both a personal and team losing trend against their North Division rival. And he and the Drillers would do so as they withstood a late Naturals comeback to claim a 5-4 win in Springdale.
Sopko was making his fifth start of the year against the Naturals as he entered the game with a 0-2 record against them. Meanwhile, Tulsa had a lackluster 7-14 record against NW Arkansas this season. But Sopko turned in a season-high, seven innings of work as he pitched very well for the Drillers. He finished his night allowing just two runs while striking out four and walking none.
Following a scoreless inning of relief in the eighth by Tulsa reliever Karch Kowalczyk, NW Arkansas made things interesting with two runs in the bottom of the ninth against Corey Copping. But the All-Star reliever settled down to record the final out of the game to secure the Tulsa victory and earn his 8th save of the year.
With the victory, the Drillers improved their second-half record to 13-7.
The Naturals got the scoring started Thursday night as they jumped ahead in the first inning.
With one out, Nicky Lopez hit a soft liner to left for a base hit. Following a single and a groundout, NW Arkansas had runners on the corners with two outs. Anderson Miller then lined an RBI single to left field to plate Lopez with the game's first run.
The Drillers would respond quickly however, as they scored twice in the second to take a 2-1 lead.
Jose Miguel Fernandez began things with a one-out base hit to right. Two batters later, he moved into scoring position when Naturals starter Josh Staumont uncorked a wild pitch while pitching to Erick Mejia. That would come back to bite Staumont as Mejia smacked an RBI double into center before coming home to score himself when Tulsa newcomer Garrett Kennedy hit a double of his own in his first career Double-A at-bat to give the Drillers the lead.
It looked as though Tulsa would add to its lead in the top of the fourth as the bases were loaded with two outs, prompting the Naturals to go to their bullpen. Zach Lovvorn came on for Staumont though and was able to put out the fire as he got Tim Locastro to line out to end the inning. But he would not be so fortunate in the fifth.
Errol Robinson led off the fifth with a base hit and quickly made his presence felt on the basepaths as he stole second before moving to third on a groundout from Henry Ramos. He then came home on a base hit by Matt Beaty to give Tulsa a 3-1 advantage.
NW Arkansas got one of those runs back in the home half of the fifth. Donald Dewees Jr. began things with a double into center. Two batters later, Nick Dini traded places with him thanks to a double of his own to make the score 3-2.
Tulsa padded its lead with two runs in the seventh on an RBI single from Fernandez and a sacrifice fly by Mejia to make the score 5-2. Those runs would prove to be vital in the ninth as they allowed the Drillers to withstand the Naturals comeback attempt and win by a lone run.
Robinson led the Drillers at the plate with a 3-hit game. Beaty, Fernandez and Mejia each also turned in multi-hit performances to help pace the Tulsa attack.
The Drillers will continue their four-game series against the Naturals Friday night. Getting the start for Tulsa will be RHP Josh Sborz (4-6, 4.36 ERA) while NW Arkansas will counter with LHP Emilio Ogando (6-6, 3.54 ERA.) First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.