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'Hounds blank Drillers, win championship

Coleman, Crumbliss homer; Long strikes out five over 5 2/3 innings
September 15, 2014

The Midland RockHounds didn't get to enjoy a division title in either half of the Texas League season. On Sunday night, they celebrated something a little more special.

After an hour-long rain delay, the A's Double-A affiliate cruised to a 5-0 victory over Tulsa in the decisive fifth game of the Championship Series to secure its first title since 2009 and third in 10 years.

"We qualified as the Wild Card, maybe as the underdog, I don't know," RockHounds manager Aaron Nieckula said. "But the fact of the matter is that our guys just came out ready to play, had fun and did the job. They got the job done. At the end of the day, they're the Texas League champions."

Dusty Coleman hit a two-run homer in the second inning and Conner Crumbliss slugged a solo shot in the fifth. An inning later, Jeremy Barfield lashed an RBI double and Matt Chapman -- the A's fourth-ranked prospect -- added a run-scoring single up the middle.

"It's about taking advantage of the opportunity, and all those guys did a fantastic job for us throughout the playoffs," Nieckula said. "They knew what they needed to do, they were very professional about their work and they just came out and worked their tails off all year long."

Starter Nate Long scattered six hits while striking out five and walking one over 5 2/3 frames. Marcus Walden recorded four outs before Frank Gailey and Jose Flores each fanned two in a scoreless inning.

Long (2-1) also got the win in the series opener, in which he yielded one run on three hits across eight innings.

"Nate's been an outstanding starter for us all year long, very consistent," Nieckula said. "Here's a guy that started the season in the bullpen as a long guy. We had some unfortunate injuries early in the year and he had an opportunity to step in as a starter and never looked back -- probably our most consistent starter all year. He did a great job for us. It was awesome to have him start Game 5 for us and go out there and qualify for the win and get the win."

Following Game 1, the Drillers won a pair of 5-2 contests to put the RockHounds on the brink of elimination. They evened the series with a 9-4 win on Saturday.

In the semifinals, Midland needed four games to eliminate Frisco, which finished first in the South Division in both halves of the season.

"The club was a little bit older, experienced," Nieckula said. "We had a bunch of free agents on the team and we certainly had some guys that came down from Triple-A, we had some guys that came up from Single-A.

"So we kind of had a smorgasbord and I was really impressed with the way the clubhouse came together -- the chemistry, the camaraderie, the way they pulled for one another, the way the held each other accountable. They respected each other, they respected the opponents and they respected the game."

Drillers starter Eddie Butler (0-2) gave up all five runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings. The Rockies' No. 2 prospect struck out five and did not walk a batter.

Mark Emery is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Emery.