SPRINGDALE Pete Kozma needed only two pitches to undo a solid performance by Northwest Arkansas’ pitching staff Thursday night.
The Springfield shortstop hit a pair of first-pitch home runs, the second a towering two-run blast in the 12th inning that lifted the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory over the Naturals before 3,927 fans at Arvest Ballpark.
The victory gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the Texas League North Division playoffs. Game 2 of the best-of-5 series is scheduled for 7 tonight at Arvest Ballpark.
Kozma’s second home run came off Patrick Keating, the fourth Northwest Arkansas pitcher, who also had surrendered a leadoff triple to Antone DeJesus.
The Naturals threatened against Blake King in the bottom of the 12th inning, loading the bases on a walk and two infield hits, but Eric Hosmer flied out to center field to end the game.
Kozma’s home runs overshadowed a 17-strikeout performance by Northwest Arkansas pitchers.
Starter Danny Duffy struck out a 2 Naturals’ season-high 10 batters in 5 /3 innings. He gave up an unearned run and walked four.
Blake Johnson worked 4/3 innings in relief, striking out three and surrendering a home run to Kozma in the eighth inning that gave Springfield a 2-1 lead.
Springfield starter Scott McGregor kept Northwest Arkansas off balance most of the night. He gave up 2 runs and 9 hits in 7 2 /3 innings.
Hosmer hit a home run in the third inning for the Naturals.
After Kozma’s first home run, Northwest Arkansas scored an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth for a 2-2 tie. Clint Robinson beat out a twoout grounder to first baseman Xavier Scruggs, whose throw to McGregor covering first got away, allowing Mc-Connell to score.