The Northwest Arkansas Naturals moved within one game of advancing to their first-ever Texas League Championship Series, coming from behind to defeat the Springfield Cardinals on Thursday night, by a score of 12-7 at Hammons Field.
Kurt Mertins drove in four runs, while the Northwest Arkansas offense attacked Springfield pitching with four round-trippers and 14 total hits.
Springfield's pitching staff couldn't hold leads of 1-0 and 7-4, as the Naturals now have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Andrew Brown's RBI hit in the first inning drove in Jim Rapoport for the game's first run, putting the Cards on the board at 1-0.
The Naturals responded quickly against Cards' starter Lance Lynn in the second. David Lough led off the inning with his first of four hits, a solo homer to right, tying the game at 1-1. With the bases loaded and two outs, Mertins delivered a clutch hit, smacking a three-run double to left-center field and putting the Naturals up 4-1.
Springfield answered with four of their own in the bottom of the second though, chasing starter Blake Johnson after just 1 2/3 innings. An RBI single from Tony Cruz made it 4-2, while Pete Kozma followed with a two-run single to even the game at 4-4. With two outs, Andrew Brown delivered his second of three hits, a run-scoring double to give the Cards the lead again at 5-4.
The Redbirds added two more in the third off eventual winner Chad Orvella (1-0), as Cruz and Kozma each drove in a run, making it a 7-4 game.
It was all Naturals from there though, as they got two in the fourth on Marc Maddox's homer and one more in the fifth to chase Lynn, tying the game at 7-7.
A sac fly by Mertins broke the tie and gave the Naturals the lead at 8-7. Jeff Bianchi followed with a solo homer, his second of the series, as Northwest Arkansas a 9-7 lead over Springfield reliever Casey Mulligan (0-1).
It remained a two-run game until the ninth, when Eduardo Sanchez allowed three more runs. Vance Wilson's RBI single made it 10-7, before Cody Clarks' two-run bomb capped the scoring at 12-7.
Naturals' right-hander Aaron Hartsock pitched the final 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn the save.
Now in a must-win situation, the Cards send Brandon Dickson (8-10) to the mound on Friday night, as the series shifts to Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Arkansas. The Naturals, looking for the sweep, will counter with Rowdy Hardy (4-4), with first pitch scheduled for 7:15pm on Friday evening. The game can be heard live on JOCK 98.7 FM and online at springfieldcardinals.com.
Should the Cards win all three remaining games in the series, they would advance to the Texas League Championship Series and return to Hammons Field on Friday, September 18th. Stay tuned to the website at springfieldcardinals.com for all the latest updates. We hope to see you very soon at Hammons Field...GO Cards!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.