Dennis Santana shut down the Texas League's most prolific postseason offense and pitched Tulsa to its first berth in the Championship Series since 2014.
The Dodgers' 12th-ranked prospect tied his career high with 11 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings as the Drillers beat Northwest Arkansas, 6-1, in the decisive fifth game of the North Division finals. He gave up three hits and two walks while plunking a batter in his first scoreless outing since joining Tulsa at the end of July.
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"The fastball just had so much run to it and the curveball he throws was unhittable and the change was plus for him tonight," Drillers manager Scott Hennessey said. "He threw three pitches for strikes, stayed ahead of hitters and the stuff took care of itself."
After 17 appearances with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga, the 21-year-old earned a promotion to Double-A and went 3-1 with a 5.51 ERA and 37 strikeouts over 32 2/3 innings in seven regular-season starts.
Video: Tulsa's Santana picks up 11th strikeout
"He's flashed plus stuff across the board, just hasn't been consistent with the command. We knew it's in there," Hennessey said. "The difference was the command. He usually throws one pitch for a strike or maybe two and it's been hit or miss, but tonight he was a big leaguer. He got some really good hitters to take feeble swings."
The Drillers totaled 37 runs in the five-game series, 11 more than any team in the Texas League playoffs. Sunday's offensive hero was Erick Mejia, who went 2-for-3 with a homer, three RBIs and two runs scored.
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"The thing about Mejia is he does something every night to help our ballclub win," said Hennessey, who took over as interim skipper in July after Ryan Garko left to take over the baseball program at University of the Pacific. "The nights he doesn't hit he uses his legs, and his defense has been phenomenal."
The 22-year-old third baseman doubled in the first ahead of Peter O'Brien's two-run double that opened the scoring, then drilled a two-run shot to right in the fourth that made it 4-0. He capped the scoring for Tulsa with a sacrifice fly to left in the eighth.
Video: Drillers book spot in Texas League Finals
"He got a pitch to handle and he didn't miss it and drove it out of the ballpark," Hennessey said, noticing the difference the run support made for his starting pitcher. "[The homer] relaxed [Santana] where he didn't feel like he had to make a big pitch every hitter, every count. It kind of relaxed him a little bit and he just cruised through basically seven innings."
After walking twice and getting hit by a pitch, Kyle Garlick smacked an RBI single in the eighth for the Drillers. He was 8-for-18 (.444) with two homers, two doubles and six RBIs in the series.
Seeking their first title since 1998, the Drillers will face three-time defending champion Midland in the best-of-5 Championship Series, beginning Tuesday in Midland. The series is a rematch of the first of the RockHounds' three consecutive titles in 2014.
In other playoff action:
Midland, San Antonio 1
Joel Seddon allowed two hits -- including a solo homer by No. 4 Padres prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. -- over five innings as the RockHounds secured their fourth straight Finals appearance. Brandon Mann, Tyler Sturdevant and Kyle Finnegan pitched four perfect frames out of the bullpen for Midland, which got a solo homer from A's No. 11 prospect Sean Murphy. Fourth-ranked Jorge Mateo opened the game with a single and scored a run, while Viosergy Rosa collected his league-leading 12th postseason RBI. Box Score