Monday night’s first-half finale at ONEOK Field had a lot of drama even though the Tulsa Drillers were eliminated from the Texas League’s North Division race a week earlier.
The Frisco RoughRiders, however, had a lot to play for as they needed a victory plus losses by Midland and Amarillo to have a chance for the South Division title.
Tulsa ended Frisco’s title hopes as two-out RBI singles by Carlos Rincon and Gavin Lux in the eighth inning lifted the Drillers past the RoughRiders 5-3.
“I thought our intensity was good, the last game of the first half you never know how guys are going to come out, but it felt like a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere,” Drillers manager Scott Hennessey said. “We’ve never faulted our guys’ effort and desire to get better.”
Midland had already lost before the Drillers eliminated Frisco. As it turned out, the RoughRiders would have fallen short of a first-half title anyway as Amarillo clinched the title about 10 minutes later with an 8-2 win over Northwest Arkansas.
But the Drillers were a big reason why the RoughRiders didn’t win the first half as Tulsa swept all four games against Frisco during the past week.
At 37-32, the Drillers finished the first half with a better record than they posted the last two years when they went on to win the second half and reach the TL Championship Series — winning the pennant last year.
“We played really well the whole first half, but ran into a good team in Arkansas, they had our number, but we battled,” Hennessey said. “Some teams would just fold their tent but we never did that and I’m happy with the whole first half and how we played and got better.”
Drillers right-hander Dustin May turned in his second consecutive stellar start against Frisco during the past week. After giving up two runs after two outfield errors in the first inning, and a run in the second, May rolled through the rest of his outing — his longest of the season. May retired 17 of the last 19 batters he faced to give the Drillers a chance to come back from their early 3-0 deficit.
“It shows D-May’s maturity, he pitched over the top of it (the two errors) and didn’t let it affect him,” Hennessey said. “He settled in after that and gave us seven strong innings.”
The Drillers’ rally began with Keibert Ruiz’s second-inning home run. Cody Thomas led off the fourth with a homer that made it 3-2. Later in the fourth, Cristian Santana lined a double down the right-field line with one out and scored on DJ Peters’ tying two-out single.
Frisco had a chance to snap the deadlock in the fifth as LeDarious Clark led off with an infield hit, stole second and was bunted to third. Clark then tried to score on Preston Beck’s fly out to medium left field, but Rincon threw him out.
Tulsa snapped the tie in the eighth. Chris Parmelee singled with one out and Peters walked to set up the two-out RBI hits from Rincon and Lux.
Jordan Sheffield then picked up the save to send the Drillers into the second half with five wins in their last seven games.
“We battled and these guys know how to win, and I expect that to carry over to the second half,” Hennessey said.