TULSA - The Tulsa Drillers are headed to their third straight Texas League Championship Series. The Drillers defeated the Arkansas Travelers 5-1 Sunday afternoon, giving themselves a chance to repeat as Texas League Champions for the first time in franchise history. Game 1 of the TLCS will take place on Tuesday night in Amarillo against the Sod Poodles.
It is the first time in franchise history that the Drillers have gone to three straight championship series.
Arkansas was without a fifth starter for Sunday's deciding game, so reliever Joey Gerber got the nod on the mound for Travelers, and he blanked the Drillers through the first three innings. In his first-ever start as a pro, Gerber allowed only a pair of singles and struck out two.
Jack Anderson took over for Gerber to open the fourth and the Drillers struck quickly. Jeter Downs and Connor Wong each singled to start the inning before Cody Thomas ripped a line drive to right, plating the first run of the game. A couple batters later, Omar Estevez gave Tulsa a 2-0 lead on an infield single that was just soft enough to get the run home.
The Drillers added to their lead in the fifth and sixth innings. In the bottom of the fifth, after Errol Robinson singled and Downs drew a walk, Wong lined a clutch RBI single.
An inning later, Cristian Santana reached on an error and Estevez singled. Robinson then came through with a hard line drive up the middle that plated a run. Drew Avans then followed with a clutch single into centerfield, giving Tulsa a 5-0 lead.
Drillers starting pitcher Edwin Uceta was outstanding and required only 60 pitches to get through the first six innings. But after Uceta spent a long half-inning in the dugout, Arkansas broke through in the top of the seventh. The Tulsa right-hander issued a walk and allowed a pair of singles to load the bases before manager Scott Hennessey went to the Drillers bullpen.
Luis Vasquez was tasked with escaping the tough jam, and did a very formidable job. After recording a strikeout, Vasquez got Luis Liberato to ground out that brought home the first Arkansas run. Vasquez then retired Donnie Walton on a first pitch grounder to end the inning with a 5-1 lead.
Vasquez shut down Arkansas in the final two innings. With two outs in the ninth, Nick Zammarelli doubled to keep the Travs' hopes alive, but Vasquez then struck out Logan Taylor on three pitches, to end the game and send Tulsa back to the championship series.
WHAT YOU MISSED
*This marks the third straight season that the Drillers have won Game 5 of the TL North Division Series at ONEOK Field. Tulsa defeated Northwest Arkansas in 2017 and the Travelers last season.
*Amarillo defeated Midland 7-5 Sunday to punch its ticket to the TLCS. It will be the second straight season that the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres Double-A affiliates will square off in the Texas League Championship.
*Donovan Casey and Wong are the only two Tulsa players to hit safely in all five games of the series. Casey was 6-18 (.333) while Wong went 7-18 (.389).
*The Tulsa bats erupted at just the right time, notching a series-high 12 hits in Game 5.
*Vasquez earned his second save of the series.
*The Drillers will have a chance to clinch a Texas League Championship at ONEOK Field for the first time. Game 3 and, if necessary, Games 4 and 5 are scheduled to be played in Tulsa. All four of the Drillers previous championships have been won on the road.
UP NEXT: Game 1, Texas League Championship Series in Amarillo or Midland, Texas. Opponent, game time and starting pitchers are TBA.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.