SPRINGDALE Northwest Arkansas failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities in the middle innings Thursday. But Blaine Hardy needed only one pitch to get out of a bases loaded jam with two outs in the ninth inning as the Naturals held on for a 5-3 victory over Arkansas in front of 4,684 fans at Arvest Ballpark.
The victory, combined with Springfield’s 7-3 victory over Tulsa, gives the Naturals a one-game lead over Tulsa for the second-half Texas League North Division title. The teams wrap up their current series tonight before Tulsa hosts Northwest Arkansas for games Saturday, Sunday and Monday to close the regular season.
The Naturals left 14 runners on base Thursday against Arkansas, which has clinched a playoff berth after winning the first-half title. That included leaving the bases loaded in four innings. While Northwest Arkansas managed nine hits against four Arkansas pitchers, it couldn’t get a key hit with runners in scoring position.
“It’s one of those games where we had a chance to blow it open in the middle of the game and we couldn’t get a big hit,” Naturals Manager Brian Poldberg said. “Giving away runs in the middle when you could be up six or seven [runs] instead of four, it came back to get us almost.”
It started early for the Naturals. They scored two runs on three hits and an error but left the bases loaded.
They also left the bases loaded in the third without scoring, in the sixth while pushing across one run and in the seventh after scoring two.
Meanwhile, Chris Dwyer shut down the Travelers, giving up 1 run on 3 hits in 6 1/3 innings. Kevin Chapman worked 1 2/3 innings in relief but couldn’t get the final out to close out the game.