SPRINGDALE, Ark - With Northwest Arkansas down to their final out in the 10th inning, catcher Nick Dini stepped to the plate and launched a two-run home run to walk-off the Naturals (16-21) with a 4-2 extra innings win over the Arkansas Travelers (19-18). The victory evens this series as the Naturals claim the first extra innings game at Arvest Ballpark under the new format.
With two outs in the 10th inning, Anderson Miller reached base by way of a fielding error by the shortstop to set the stage for Dini's heroics. Dini, whom had been struggling at the plate in recent days, didn't miss his opportunity in extras. He caught a 1-0 pitch from Traveler reliever Matt Festa (L, 1-1) and crushed it deep over the left field wall and the celebration ensued.
Naturals' reliever Luis Vasquez (W, 2-0) earned the win as he was brilliant in the top of the 10th. In the new extra innings rules for Double-A, each team gets to start with a runner on second base to begin the inning but that didn't bother Vasquez. The sidewinding righty induced a groundout and then struck out the final two batters of the inning to strand the runner at third.
It took until the home half of the fourth before the scoreless game was broken up by the Naturals. Erick Mejia singled to left, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Nicky Lopez and then would score on an Elier Hernandez RBI single for a 1-0 lead.
The Travelers would respond in the top of the fifth with a run of their own to tie up the game using the same formula as Northwest Arkansas the inning before. Joseph Odom led off the frame with single to center before advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Mariscal . Then with two-outs, Logan Taylor came up with the clutch knock to drive home Odom.
The tie game would not last long as Northwest Arkansas would retake the lead in their turn at bat. Alex Liddi doubled to right field and was driven in by Luis Villegas , whom lifted a bloop single into shallow left, to give the Naturals the 2-1 advantage.
Foster Griffin made his team-leading seventh start of the season and posted his best May outing to date. The tall left-hander scattered eight hits through 7.0 innings of two-run baseball to go along with five strikeouts. Following Griffin out of the bullpen was closer Jake Newberry and he came in and fired 2.0 scoreless innings while striking out four to keep the game tied.
Northwest Arkansas will continue their series against the Arkansas Travelers, the Double-A Affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, with Game 3 tomorrow morning - Wednesday, May 16 - with first pitch scheduled for 11:05 a.m. Gates will open to the public at 10:00 a.m. for an Education Day Game presented by SWEPCO. The Naturals will send RHP Zach Lovvorn (1-2, 4.85 ERA) to the hill to square off against RHP Chase De Jong (3-2, 4.38 ERA) of the Travelers. Catch all the live play-by-play action with the Voice of the Naturals Benjamin Kelly on KQSM - 92.1 The Ticket starting at 10:45 a.m. for the Indigo Sky Casino Pregame Show.
Follow the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on Facebook and Twitter @NWANaturals all throughout the year by using the hashtag #NaturalPastime and #CrowntoCrown for all of our up-to-date information on the 2018 season of Naturals baseball.
The Northwest Arkansas Naturals are the Double-A Texas League Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. The Naturals play at state-of-the-art Arvest Ballpark in Springdale, Ark. For more information, including statistics, ticket options, and more, please visit NWANaturals.com, and follow us on Twitter @NWANaturals and Facebook.com/Naturals.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.