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Hicklen's slam powers Northwest Arkansas to title

Naturals sweep Double-A Central Finals with 6-2 win over Wichita
September 25, 2021

Brewer Hicklen couldn’t have been happier to sleep on a mattress on the floor of an empty apartment. Hicklen, along with most of his Northwest Arkansas teammates, had packed his bags prior to Sunday’s regular-season finale in anticipation of the season being cut short. Some good fortune against mounted odds

Brewer Hicklen couldn’t have been happier to sleep on a mattress on the floor of an empty apartment.

Hicklen, along with most of his Northwest Arkansas teammates, had packed his bags prior to Sunday’s regular-season finale in anticipation of the season being cut short. Some good fortune against mounted odds pushed the Naturals into the playoffs, which caused Hicklen to push his mattress back into a vacant unit.

On Friday, his grand slam helped power Northwest Arkansas to a 6-2 win, capping a three-game sweep of the Wichita Wind Surge to secure the Double-A Central Championship Series. That marked the Naturals’ second league title, the other having come in 2010.

But boy, they were a razor’s edge away from missing out on playoff action altogether.

On the final day of the regular season, the Naturals needed three things to happen in order to clinch a playoff spot: a win over Springfield, as well as losses for both Arkansas and Frisco.

The Frisco/Amarillo game was particularly heart-pumping, and Northwest Arkansas players followed along from their dugout as Frisco took a three-run lead in the ninth. Frisco also took a lead in the 10th, but they lost after giving up four runs to Amarillo in the bottom half. Northwest Arkansas won its game and punched its ticket to face Wichita.

“Once we made the playoffs, I don’t want to come across as arrogant, but I knew we were gonna get it done,” Hicklen said. “We’re a confident bunch. I just knew it was gonna happen.”

Friday’s clincher was knotted when Hicklen came to bat with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. That type of spot can raise a player’s heartbeat, which is why he spent this past offseason trying to mentally replicate high-leverage moments in the batting cage.

“I felt like I’d been in that moment before,” he said. “So, I wasn’t stressed out or over-anxious or anything.”

And in reality, he had been in that moment before. Last month in a game against Wichita, Hicklen faced a bases-loaded situation with his team trailing by one. He struck out, and Northwest Arkansas lost.

This time, he barreled a middle-middle slider and skied it over the wall. With five scoreless relief innings from Nolan Watson and Jose Cuas to follow, the Naturals came away with the win and the title.

Hicklen spent the entire season with Northwest Arkansas, and he described it as a group with “two different rosters.” In the beginning, the Naturals were loaded with MLB Top-100 talent: Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 3), Nick Pratto (No. 66) and MJ Melendez (No. 68). All three were later promoted to Triple-A Omaha, which required new faces to step up.

“It just goes to show the depth in this organization,” Hicklen said.

The Double-A title is Hicklen’s third in as many Minor League seasons, after he won with Low-A Lexington in 2018 and High-A Wilmington in 2019. This year’s win came after some intense end-of-season drama, and Hicklen is proud of how the Naturals stuck together as a team.

“We all root for one another, and I think that’s what’s really important about us,” he said. “In the Minor Leagues, that’s not always the case (because) we’re all competing against one another. … It’s honestly a great group, and I’m really excited for what’s to hold in the future.”