Wichita advances with thrilling win

The Wichita Wranglers are moving on to the Texas League Championship series. The Wranglers on Friday night stormed out to a 7-0 lead behind starting pitcher Luke Hochevar, and Alex Gordon slammed two home runs. Billy Butler added another, but the game got close in a hurry after Hochevar's exit. However, the Wranglers held on for a thrilling 7-6 win, and the champagne flowed.

Things got interesting in the ninth inning. Devon Lowery came in to close out the game with a one-run lead, but he surrendered a leadoff single to Matthew Miller. Jordan Czarniecki pinch ran, and a sacrifice bunt moved him over to second base before Lowery struck out Tino Sanchez for the second out.

Jonathan Herrera then stepped up and laced a single to left field, and Czarniecki raced around third for home as left fielder Chris Lubanski came up with the ball. It was going to take a perfect throw to get him, and Lubanski fired a bullet toward home plate in hopes of preventing the tying run. The ball took a single hop and landed in the mitt of catcher Adam Donachie, who blocked the plate and tagged out Czarniecki to end the game.

"I saw the ground ball and I knew it was going to go through," said Lubanski. "I play Herrera pretty shallow because he doesn't have much pop. So when he hit it, I just made sure I caught the ball cleanly and took my time to make a good throw, and everything worked out."

Practice makes perfect. Lubanski's throw saved the game

The crowd erupted as the Wranglers raced out of the dugout and started a dogpile in between second and third. With the win, the Wranglers advance to the Texas League Championship series, and they're just three wins away from the title that would befit a team loaded with so much talent.

After the first five innings, victory seemed almost certain for the Wranglers. They got on top in the bottom of the first, thanks to a solo home run to left-center by Alex Gordon, and a three-run fourth inning staked them to a four-run lead. In the fourth inning, Gordon struck again with another solo bomb, this time to right-center, and Billy Butler followed suit the following inning with a line drive solo blast of his own to left field. When Donnie Murphy – who went 8-for-16 (.500) in the series – singled home Mitch Maier later in the fifth, the Wranglers held a dominating 7-0 lead.

Gordon's second HR was a true Ruthian blast to right-center

Meanwhile Luke Hochevar, making his first Double-A start, was mowing down the Drillers' offense. Hochevar used his fastball, curveball, and change-up to perfection, keeping the Drillers off balance while racking up seven strikeouts. The defense chipped in as well, with highlight reel plays turned in by shortstop Angel Sanchez, Murphy, and Lubanski.

"The bats in the lineup gave me seven runs, and they played unbelievable defense," said Hochevar. "It's just an honor to be a part of this…I'm just excited to be in this situation."

Hochevar's first Wichita start couldn't have been much better: 5.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K

Thanks to the defensive gems, Hochevar held the Drillers hitless until second baseman Doug Bernier tripled down the right field line with one out in the sixth inning. Herrera then followed with an RBI bouncer up the middle, and Wranglers' manager Frank White summoned Neal Musser from the bullpen, ending Hochevar's night after 5.1 innings pitched. He exited with a 7-1 lead and a standing ovation from the Wichita crowd.

The Drillers immediately began chipping away at the lead, and they plated three runs in both the sixth and seventh innings before the Wranglers' bullpen was able to stop the bleeding. After allowing a run in the seventh inning, reliever Gabe DeHoyos threw a scoreless eighth and handed the game over to Lowery for the fateful ninth.

For the championship, the Wranglers now must face the Corpus Christi Hooks, who swept the Midland Rockhounds in their divisional series. During the season, the Wranglers went 6-8 against the Hooks, who feature slugger Hunter Pence and speedster Josh Anderson at the top of their formidable lineup.

"We've played them a lot this year, and it's been pretty much an even series all year," said Lubanski. "We've played them well, and they've played us well, so it'll be good. It all comes down to these last five games, and that's gonna be it."

The best-of-five championship series begins on Monday in Wichita and continues on Tuesday, before the two teams head south to Corpus Christi for the remaining games. There's no word yet who will start for the Wranglers, but it will likely be either Billy Buckner – who was scheduled to pitch in game five on Saturday vs. the Drillers – or Zack Greinke, who won game one.

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