SPRINGDALE, Ark - Jecksson Flores hit a game-tying solo home run in the ninth while Samir Duenez scored the game-winning run in the tenth as the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (70-69) rallied late to secure the final series with a walk-off win on Sunday night over the Arkansas Travelers (70-68) in front of a crowd of 5,804 at Arvest Ballpark. The victory gives the Naturals 70 regular season wins - the most since 73 wins in 2011 - as well as their 19th series win, which is the most since 19 in 2011.
Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Naturals' fans were treated to a star-studded match-up between Flores, the Texas League's leading hitter, and right-hander Matt Festa , a Texas League Postseason All-Star selection. Northwest Arkansas' infielder won the battle as he jumped on a 0-1 pitch and lined a solo home run over the wall in left to the tie the game at 3-3.
In the tenth, Naturals' manager Mike Rojas would turn to relievers Grant Gavin and Andres Machado (W, 2-3) to keep the Travs off the scoreboard. Gavin struck out the first two batters he faced before intentionally walking Joey Curletta , the Texas League Player of the Year, and giving way to Machado. Dario Pizzano hit a deep fly ball to center field off the Naturals' hard throwing reliever but Nick Heath tracked it down in spectacular fashion to keep it tied entering the home half of the frame.
Arkansas would replace Festa with former Natural Matt Tenuta in the bottom of the inning. Anderson Miller grounded out to first base to move Duenez, whom started at second base to begin the frame, over to third. After an intentional walk to Xavier Fernandez , Tenuta uncorked a wild pitch to Heath allowing Duenez to score for the walk-off victory.
During the early portion of Game 2 of the series, the Travelers opened things up with a run in the first. Eric Filia worked a two-out walk and then was brought home by Curletta as the clean-up hitter for North Little Rock doubled into the right-center field gap for the early 1-0 advantage but Northwest Arkansas would come back to tie it in the fourth as Alex Liddi picked up an RBI groundout.
The game remained 1-1 into the sixth when both teams would plate a run. Pizzano gave the visitor's the lead with his 11th home run of the season while the Naturals would get another RBI groundout, this time by Kelvin Gutierrez , to even the game at 2-2.
Arkansas would plate their final run in the top of the ninth on a single by Logan Taylor , which setup the late-game heroics.
Both starters threw well during the game but neither factored into the decision. Naturals' righty Scott Blewett had another strong outing as he tossed 6.2 innings of two-run baseball while the Travs' Chris Mazza would give up two runs in 7.0 frames.
Northwest Arkansas will conclude their 2018 campaign with the series finale against the Arkansas Travelers, the Double-A Affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, tomorrow afternoon - Monday, September 3 - with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Gates will open at Arvest Ballpark at noon for the FINAL home game of the season that features Unused Ticket Day by Ozarks Electric highlighted by Dollar Hot Dogs by Tyson Foods, Inc. and Indigo Sky Casino Baseball Bingo. The Naturals will end the season how they began it with Opening Day starter Foster Griffin (10-12, 5.15 ERA) getting the nod against former Natural Ashton Goudeau (3-5, 4.76 ERA) of the Travelers. Catch all of the live play-by-play action one last time with the Voice of the Naturals Benjamin Kelly on KQSM - 92.1 The Ticket starting at 12:45 p.m. for the Indigo Sky Casino Pregame Show leading up to first pitch of the finale.
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.