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This Week in the Minors: Naturals advance; Burlington eliminated

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The Naturals advance on an extra-inning squeeze play

This is our weekly look at notable performances from all over the system, from big-name prospects and less heralded guys alike. It is shorter than most installments, because all but two teams went home last week.

Burlington Royals (Rookie league)

The B-Royals opened their postseason with a 20-5 win over the Princeton Rays. Their 20 runs scored on 19 hits, including four (!) by 3B Emmanuel Rivera, and three each by shortstop Nicky Lopez and catcher Nathan Esposito.

Princeton answered with a 6-4 win in Game 2 to even the series.

Burlington won the series with a 4-3 walkoff win in Game 3. It was the first walkoff of the season for the Royals. Lefty starter Cristian Castillo struck out nine in six innings, giving up two runs on five hits and a walk. Nicky Lopez drove in the game winning run.

In the championship series, Burlington suffered a sweep at the hands of the Johnson City Cardinals.

Second baseman Gabriel Cancel had three hits in the brief series, including a double that sparked all of the scoring in the first game.

22-year-old RHP Jose Veras tried to keep Burlington in Game 1, with 4.2 scoreless innings (featuring five strikeouts and no walks), but the damage had been done against the starter Garrett Davila. Right-hander Alex Close, 23, added a perfect inning of relief.

In Game 2, left fielder Jonathan McCray homered twice. Both were solo shots.

Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Double-A)

The Naturals beat the Springfield Cardinals in four games to advance to the championship series.

Game 1: The Naturals committed a trio of errors early that made starter Eric Skoglund’s line look worse than it should have. Springfield scored five in the first 4.2, but only two were earned.

The Northwest Arkansas offense more than made up for those early unearned runs. Second baseman Corey Toups hit two home runs and a single. Third baseman Mauricio Ramos had a four-hit day, and scored a pair of runs. First baseman Frank Schwindel and right fielder Logan Moon also had three hits apiece.

Game 2: The first six+ innings of this game were played Thursday night, before heavy rains necessitated a suspension. The remaining outs were played on Friday. The Naturals had an 8-7 lead when the tarp went on the field, but lost 12-11.

Ryan O’Hearn missed hitting for the cycle because he hit an extra home run instead of a single. Toups, Ramos, and Samir Duenez also homered in the loss.

Game 3: The hitting stayed hot for the third game of the series, with home runs by Duenez and Toups. Schwindel drove in three runs with his three hits.

Starting pitcher Ashton Goudeau gave up two earned runs on three hits in four innings. Left-hander Eric Stout and righty Evan Beal each chipped in two scoreless innings. Miguel Almonte surrendered a solo home run in his relief inning, but the offense had done enough to give the Naturals an 8-3 win.

Game 4: O’Hearn hit a solo home run in the 4th, then scored the game winning run on a squeeze by catcher Cam Gallagher.

Starting pitcher Josh Staumont struck out 11 (!) Cardinals in his six innings of work. He also walked three, and let in a pair of runs on four hits. He threw 91 pitches.

Here is the bunt that won the game, and the series, for the Naturals:

The championship series is a best-of-five against the Midland RockHounds (OAK), starting tonight at 7:05. It is the second year in a row these two teams have faced off in this series. Midland defeated Northwest Arkansas in 2015.

Game 1 is tonight at 7:05.