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RockHounds win Texas League title

Gomez doubles in go-ahead run in eighth inning
September 17, 2005
The Midland Rockhounds won their first outright Texas League Championship in 30 years on Friday night, edging the Arkansas Travelers, 6-5, on the road in Game 4.

It's the first outright title for Midland, which had to share the 1975 championship with Lafayette when the series was cancelled due to rain with the teams tied, 2-2.

Francis Gomez's two-out RBI double in the eighth inning snapped a 5-5 tie. Reliever David Austen walked Jason Perry to lead off the frame before retiring Kevin Melillo on a popout and striking out Mark Kiger. That brought up Gomez, who ripped Austen's offering past center fielder Reggie Willits.

The game ended in truly bizarre fashion. Alex Santos came on to pitch the ninth for Midland, gunning for his second save of the series. The 28-year-old right-hander retired Gregory Porter on a popout and struck out Dave Matranga.

Jason Aspito, who entered as a defensive replacement in the eighth, came to the plate representing the Travelers' last hope. He worked the count full before Santos delivered ball four. However, plate umpire Stephen Frtizoni apparently lost track of the count and ordered Aspito back into the batter's box. Given another chance, Santos struck out Aspito to end the game.

While the second half of the game was characterized by clutch two-out hits, shoddy relief pitching and, in Midland's case, poor defense, the first half was a clean, crisp affair.

Starters Matt Lynch of Midland and Kasey Olenberger of Arkansas each tossed four scoreless innings.

Lynch, who worked out of the bullpen in the second half of the season, kept the Travelers off-balance and allowed only one three-ball count. He struck out five and yielded one hit -- a two-out single to Tommy Murphy in the second.

Jared Burton, Lynch's replacement, was hit hard in his Double-A debut after spending the season with the Class A Stockton Ports. Kendry Morales welcomed Burton to the Texas League with a mammoth home run over the right field fence, his first dinger in the Championship Series after three in the first round. Murphy and David Gates followed with singles, ending Burton's night.

Evan Fahrner came on and was victimized by two costly errors. After Matranga popped out, Brent Del Chiaro reached on a miscue by third baseman Francis Gomez to load the bases. Fahrner almost escaped, but shortstop Kiger threw wildly trying to turn a double play on Erick Aybar's grounder. The error allowed Murphy and Gates to score, giving the Travelers a 3-0 lead.

Midland finally got to Olenberger in the sixth. Brian Stavisky drew a leadoff walk and scored three batters later on Jason Perry's single, his first hit in seven postseason at-bats.

Olenberger retired Melillo to end the sixth and allowed one run on seven hits while striking out seven. He was replaced by Matt Wilhite.

The Travelers' bullpen couldn't hold the lead. Wilhite retired the first two batters in the seventh before manager Tom Gamboa brought in southpaw Willie Collazo. The move backfired as Collazo allowed three consecutive left-handed batters to reach base. Steve Stanley singled, Daric Barton walked and Stavisky singled home Stanley. That brought up Jeremy Brown, who slammed a three-run homer to give the RockHounds a 5-3 advantage.

Brown's dinger capped an excellent postseason for the powerful backstop, who batted .419 with four homers and 15 RBIs.

Arkansas tied it in the bottom of the frame against Marcus Gwyn. Matranga and Aybar singled to put runners on the corners with one out. With Willits batting, Aybar broke for second base and Brown's throw sailed into the outfield, allowing Matranga to score and Aybar to reach third. Willits lofted a tying sacrifice fly.

Gwyn (1-0) earned the win, despite allowing two runs -- one earned -- on two hits in one inning.

Austen (1-1) suffered the loss, one day after winning Game 3. He allowed a run on one hit and a walk.