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Midland is one win away from another championship

Richie Martin is putting a positive finish on an otherwise shaky year.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Double-A Midland RockHounds hold a 2-1 lead in their best-of-5 Texas League Championship Series against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals). The final three games of the series were originally scheduled for Fri-Sun in Midland, but they were shifted up a day due to the weather.

After capturing both games on the road, the RockHounds dropped their first contest at home on Thursday. They need only win one of the next two games, both of which will be played at their home park.

Here’s a closer look at the series.

Midland RockHounds vs. Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)

League: Double-A Texas League

Best-of-5 Championship Series

RockHounds lead series 2-1

Game 1: RockHounds 5, Naturals 4 (recap)
Game 2: RockHounds 6, Naturals 4 (box score)
Game 3: Naturals 4, RockHounds 0 (box score)
Game 4: Fri 9/16, 5:00 p.m. at Midland
Game 5: Sat 9/17, 5:00 p.m. at Midland

Game 4 starters: RHP James Naile vs. RHP Glenn Sparkman

The RockHounds’ Game 2 victory on Wednesday wasn’t a complete breeze, but it was more comfortable than some of the other wins we’ve seen in this postseason. The Hounds jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the middle innings, backed by an excellent pitching performance from starter Corey Walter. The bullpen allowed four runs to let the Naturals back into the game, but once again the pen did just enough to hold on.

Yairo Munoz and Richie Martin were the biggest contributors at the plate, but the offense continued to be a true team effort. Midland first scored in the 4th, with Munoz starting a rally that was capped off by J.P. Sportman (RBI single) and Martin (sac fly). In the next inning it was Munoz and platoon catcher Andy Paz picking up the RBI, and in the 6th Martin slugged a solo homer. The lineup racked up 12 hits.

Meanwhile, Walter needed only 73 pitches to slice through five scoreless frames. He didn’t record a single strikeout, but he kept the ball on the ground and didn’t let the Naturals get anything going. Reliever Sam Bragg took over in the 6th, but the five batters he faced combined for four line-drive hits and a strikeout. Fortunately the rest of the pen fared better, and Lou Trivino, Kyle Finnegan, and Jake Sanchez closed things out.

Yairo Munoz, 3B: 2-for-5, RBI, 2 runs
Richie Martin, SS: 1-for-3, HR, sac fly, 2 RBI
Tyler Marincov, OF: 2-for-5, 2B, run
J.P. Sportman, OF: 2-for-4, RBI
Max Schrock, 2B: 0-for-5, K

Corey Walter, RHP: 5 ip, 0 runs, 0 Ks, 1 BB, 4 hits
Sam Bragg, RHP: ⅓ ip, 3 runs (2 ER), 1 K, 4 hits
Kyle Finnegan, RHP: 1⅓ ip, 2 Ks

***

Thursday was supposed to be a day off for travel, a rare luxury in the minor leagues, but the powers-that-be decided to get things moving to avoid some bad weather on the horizon. To make matters worse, pitcher Ben Bracewell, who started Game 3 of the Divisional Series, was put on the DL. (Lefty Evan Manarino came up from Stockton to take his spot on the roster.)

Game 3 proved to be straightforward. The Hounds only managed three hits and couldn’t come up with a single run, while the Naturals cruised to victory. Veteran Brandon Mann put up another excellent start for Midland (6 ip, 1 run, 8 Ks), but unless he could allow negative-one runs there was nothing he could have done.

Two of the Hounds’ hits were off the bat of Viosergy Rosa, the other by Tyler Marincov. They did finally put together one decent rally in the 9th, thanks to a couple walks, but it fell short.

Tyler Marincov, OF: 1-for-2, 2 BB
Richie Martin, SS: 0-for-2, BB

Cody Stull, LHP: 1 ip, 2 runs, 1 K, 1 BB, 2 hits

Despite the loss, the Hounds are in great shape in this series. They only need to win one of the final two games, they get home-field advantage, and they still have plenty of pitching available — in addition to Game 4 starter Naile, they’ve got starters Kyle Friedrichs and Manarino on the roster. The three-peat is there if they want it.

Link to Friday box score