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Drillers Win on Valera’s Big Homer

Tulsa starting pitcher Gavin Stone struck out 11 in five shutout innings in Tulsa's 2-1 win Saturday night. (Rich Crimi)
June 18, 2022

TULSA, OK – The Tulsa Drillers offense was mostly limited Saturday night by Wichita pitchers, but the Drillers got one big hit from Leonel Valera. Held scoreless for the first 6.2 innings, the big hit came when Valera delivered his first Double-A home run to turn a one-run deficit into

TULSA, OK – The Tulsa Drillers offense was mostly limited Saturday night by Wichita pitchers, but the Drillers got one big hit from Leonel Valera. Held scoreless for the first 6.2 innings, the big hit came when Valera delivered his first Double-A home run to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead.

The Drillers bullpen took over from there. Jose Hernandez worked a scoreless eighth inning, and Jordan Leasure pitched around a one-out double and a two-out walk in the bottom of the ninth to close the 2-1 Tulsa win.

The victory was an important one for the Drillers as they were able to pad their slim lead at the top of the North Division standings of the Texas League. Their win, in combination with a loss by Arkansas, upped their first-place lead to 2.0 games over the Travelers and to 2.5 games over the Wind Surge. There are just seven games remaining in the first half of the season.

BOXSCORE

The first half of Saturday’s game was dominated by the starting pitchers.

After giving up four runs in his last start that raised his Double-A ERA to 1.73, Gavin Stone was back to his dominant self for the Drillers. Stone allowed just three hits in five shutout innings while striking out 11. He struck out the side in two of his five innings.

Like Stone, Wichita starting pitcher Daniel Gossett was outstanding. Gossett, who has started 23 games in the majors for the Oakland A’s, surrendered just three hits in five shutout innings with five strikeouts.

The Wind Surge wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard after Stone’s departure. In the top of the sixth inning, Cole Sturgeon hit the sixth pitch from reliever Guillermo Zuniga onto the right field berm for his fourth homer of the season to give Wichita a 1-0 lead.

An alert play from Tulsa catcher Carson Taylor kept the Wind Surge from doubling its lead in the seventh inning. With runners at first and third with two outs, a pitch in the dirt skipped past Taylor and rolled about 10 feet away from home plate. Daniel Ozoria, the runner at third, broke for the plate but Taylor retrieved the ball and tagged him out to end the inning.

The Drillers finally broke through against Wichita reliever Osiris German in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, German hit Brandon Lewis with a pitch. After Jeren Kendall struck out, Valera hit a 0-2 pitch high into the air in left field. The ball just cleared the left field fence, landing in the first row of the Budweiser Terrace for the shortstop’s first-ever Double-A home run that gave Tulsa a 2-1 lead.

Shortstop Leonel Valera and the Drillers wore commemorative jerseys in Saturday's win in honor of Tulsa's semi-pro, Negro league team the T-Town Clowns. Rich Crimi

Another stellar defensive play helped in the eighth inning helped to preserve the lead. With one out and a runner at first, first baseman Lewis made a backhanded stop of a sharp grounder and started an inning-ending 3-6-3 double play.

The Drillers had to survive another threat in the ninth as DaShawn Keirsey Jr. doubled with one out. After a strikeout, Andrew Bechtold worked a nine-pitch walk from Leasure to put the potential go-ahead runs on base. Leasure escaped the jam when he enticed a fly ball off the bat of Anthony Prato that Kendall gloved in shallow centerfield to secure the victory, much to the delight of the crowd of 7,479.

The Drillers have now won five of the first six games in the seven-game series with the Wind Surge. They also extended their winning streak to four straight games, one short of their season high.

HIGHLIGHTS AND HAPPENINGS:

* Like Valera, it was a first for Leasure. The Tulsa reliever recorded his first save at the Double-A level with the scoreless ninth. The right-hander has eight straight scoreless appearances and has not allowed a run since May 26.

*Thanks to his game-winning homer, Valera has now hit safely in 12 of his 14 games since joining the Drillers on May 31.

*The win also padded Tulsa’s lead over the Wind Surge in the 2022 Coors Light Propeller Series to 10-4. It will take 13 wins this year to win the series.

*The Drillers last two victories have come despite totaling just 11 hits in the two games.

*The victory also ensured a series win for the Drillers, as they have won four of the first five games in the extended seven-game series.

*Zuniga continued to be plagued by the home run ball. Sturgeon’s blast was the eighth homer that the Tulsa reliever has given up in 27.0 innings this season, the highest total of his career. He has allowed only 27 hits on the year, but eight have left the park.

*The Drillers wore T-Town Clowns jerseys in the game in recognition of the Juneteenth Celebration and in honor of the T-Town Clowns, a semi-pro Negro league team that played in Tulsa.

UP NEXT:

The Drillers will close out their longest homestand of the season on Sunday afternoon with the series finale against the Wind Surge. Starting time at ONEOK Field is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

The pitching matchup is expected to be:

Wichita – RHP Casey Legumina (1-2, 6.59 ERA)

Tulsa – LHP John Rooney (2-2, 1.73 ERA)