The Wichita Wingnuts were looking for their 10th win on their 19 game road trip as they rolled into Cleburne to take on the Railroaders. Thanks to 6.2 outstanding innings by starter Jordan Cooper and a 2-3 night by Zach Nehrir, the Wingnuts earned themselves a 3-1 victory, their fourth straight win.
This was a great battle between Cooper and Cleburne starter Patrick Mincey. After Mincey retired Wichita in order in the top of the first, Angel Rosa would lead off the bottom half of the inning by fouling off four straight pitches before blasting his 12th home run of the season. That gave the Railroaders a 1-0 lead.
That lead held through the first four innings, as the Cleburne starter was in complete command of the game. He allowed two to reach in the second before striking out John Nester and getting Nick Rotola the fly out to end the inning. In the third, he gave up back to back singles, but Zach Nehrir was thrown out at second trying to take an extra base before Abel Nieves hit a chopper back to Mincey to end the inning.
In the fifth, Wichita would finally break through. The Railroaders right-hander retired the first two batters of the inning, but an error by Mincey allowed Leo Vargas to reach. Logan Watkins followed with a triple down the line in right field that brought Vargas all the way around from first to tie the score at one.
While Mincey was pitching a gem for Cleburne, Cooper was matching him. After giving up the run in the first, he gave up hits in the second and third before retiring the side in order from the fourth through the sixth innings. He would retire 13 straight batters during the stretch, striking out six during that span.
In the seventh, his offense finally gave him the lead. With Roman Gomez on the hill, the Cleburne reliever was able to retire the first two batters, but Nehrir turned on a 1-2 pitch, blasting it for his sixth home run of the season to put the Wichita Wingnuts on top for the first time in the game, 2-1.
Cooper (9-5) returned in the bottom of the seventh, giving up a walk sandwiched between two strikeouts. He would go 6.2-innings, allowing 5-hits and a run while fanning 10. Mincey had also been brilliant, giving up 4-hits and an unearned run in 6.0-innings, but came away with a no-decision.
Brady Bowen finished off the seventh-inning and returned in the eighth, where he would load the bases on a walk, a single, and a hit by pitch with two outs. However, he was able to get former Wichita Wingnuts outfielder Hunter Clanin to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
That proved to be huge, as Wichita would add an insurance run in the top of the ninth. With one down, Vargas tripled to the wall in center. That brought Watkins to the plate, who grounded a ball down the first. Patrick Palmeiro came home, gunning Vargas at the plate with Watkins reaching first. Watkins then stole second before Nehrir walked. With Nieves at the plate, both runners attempted to steal an additional base. Watkins was safe with the throw going into left field allowing him to score and extend the lead to two.
Daniel Tillman came on in the ninth inning looking to close out the game. He gave up a walk to start the frame, but then induced a double play before striking out Alex Polston to end the contest. That gave Tillman his American Association leading 22nd save of the season.
Zach Nehrir finished 2-3 with a run, RBI, and 2-walks. Logan Watkins was 2-5 with a run and an RBI. Trevor Sealey and Patrick Palmeiro both had 2-hits for Cleburne.
Game 2 of this series is set for tomorrow night. First pitch is scheduled for 7:06.
By Robert Pannier