LINCOLN, NE – Dan Johnson hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Lincoln Saltdogs back-to-back walk-off wins over the Wichita Wingnuts with an 8-7 victory on Tuesday night.
The Saltdogs (29-26) entered the bottom of the ninth trailing 7-6 and facing Wingnuts (34-22) closer Daniel Tillman. T.J. Bennett and Cesar Valera reached on consecutive one-out singles to bring Curt Smith to the plate. The veteran hit a grounder to the left side and the shortstop threw wildly to second base, allowing Bennett to score and putting runners at the corners. Then, Brandon Jacobs drew a walk and Johnson lined the first pitch he saw to right field to score Valera and end the game.
The victory marked the sixth walk-off win of the season for the Saltdogs. They have walked-off Wichita four times in five chances. The Saltdogs won nine games by the walk-off in 2017.
Lincoln scored first for the second night in a row. Christian Ibarra singled to begin the bottom of the first and the next two batters reached to load the bases. Next, Smith grounded to the left side to drive in the first run and the shortstop compounded the play with an error to let Smith reach first. Then, starter Casey Harman hit Jacobs with a pitch to send in another run. Johnson batted in another runner with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Smith’s first inning RBI was his 303rd of his Saltdogs career, moving him past Josh Patton for the second most in franchise history.
Wichita grabbed the lead in the second inning. Saltdogs starter Joe Bircher recorded five outs in the first five batters he faced in his Lincoln debut but hit a snag after that. Bennett and Smith each made errors over the next three batters faced to load the bases. Then, Leo Vargas walked to send in the first run. Logan Watkins and Zach Nehrir notched hits in the next two at bats to drive in three more unearned runs and give the Wingnuts the 4-3 lead.
The Saltdogs snatched the lead back in the fourth. Johnson singled and Randolph Oduber launched a two-run homer to make it 5-4. The blast broke Lincoln’s season-high three-game homerless streak.
Lincoln and Wichita each scored runs in the fifth and seventh innings to set up the eighth. Saltdogs reliever Jake Hohensee walked Ryne Willard to start the inning and the Wingnuts bunted him to second. Vargas drove him in with a two-out single to tie the game. Then he stole second base and scored on double from Tony Thomas to give Wichita the one-run lead.
Saltdogs relief pitcher Derek Gordon retired all four batters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings to earn the win and set the table for the walk-off. Bircher lasted 6.1 innings and allowed just one earned run in his first start since joining the team via a trade with Sioux Falls.
The Saltdogs go for the sweep on Wednesday. First pitch is at 6:45 PM with coverage beginning at 6:15 PM on ESPN 101.5 FM 1480 AM and saltdogs.com/stream.