Tony Thomas entered the 2018 season setting a personal goal of 20 home runs. The Wichita Wingnuts are glad he found the most opportune time to reach the milestone, giving his team back the lead after the Lincoln Saltdogs had put together a six-run sixth to tie the score at eight. That put Wichita on top 9-8 and they would hold on for the one-run victory, keeping them a half game out of second in the South.
The Wichita Wingnuts would come out blazing, getting their first run of the game in the bottom of the first. Zach Nehrir grounded a single to left with one down and scored when Angel Reyes delivered a two-out double down the line in left.
An inning later, John Nester singled with one out and moved to third on a Leo Vargas double. Logan Trowbridge brought Nester home with a sacrifice fly to make it a 2-0 Wichita lead.
The Wingnuts added four in the third thanks to a great two-out rally. Abel Nieves walked to start the frame, but was erased when Reyes hit into a double-play. Tony Thomas doubled before Chase Simpson walked to put two on. A single to left by Nester brought Thomas home and Vargas then walked to load the bases. That brought Trowbridge to the plate who drilled a ball down the line in right that he legged out for a triple. All three runners came around to score to give the Wichita Wingnuts a 6-0 lead.
Charlie Gillies had rolled through the first three innings, allowing just two hits, but the Lincoln Saltdogs would finally get to him in the fourth. Randolph Oduber was hit by a pitch to start the frame and Curt Smith followed with a single. Two batters later, Cesar Valera singled into center, driving home Oduber to make it a 6-1 game. A base hit by Daniel Herrera brought home Smith to make it 6-2.
In the fifth, the Wingnuts restored their lead to six. Simpson walked with one down and scored when Nester crushed his seventh homer of the year. That made it 8-2.
Gillies was in command through five, but the wheels came off in the sixth. T.J. Bennett singled to start the inning. Valera followed with a base hit, but Bennett was thrown out trying to advance to third. Herrera singled before Alex Glenn walked to load the bases. Ivan Marin then drew a walk to drive home Valera and Christian Ibarra was hit by a pitch to drive home another.
That would be it for Gillies. Austin Boyle came on but he could not tame the Saltdogs. Brandon Jacobs worked the count full, then launched his 19th homer of the year. The grand slam tied the score and tied Jacobs with Tony Thomas for the American Association lead in homers.
The tie did not last long, however, on both accounts. In the bottom of the seventh, Thomas led off the frame by drilling the first pitch over the wall in center for his 20th of the year.
From there the bullpen took over for the Wingnuts. James Campbell, returning from knee surgery, retired the first two batters of the eighth. Daniel Tillman closed out the inning and then retired the side in order in the ninth for his American Association leading 24th save of the season.
The victory kept the Wingnuts a half game behind the Kansas City T-Bones for the second playoff berth in the South. Tony Thomas was 2-4 with 2-runs and an RBI. John Nester was 4-4 with 3-runs and 3-RBI. Brandon Jacobs finished 2-5 with a run and 4-RBI for Lincoln.
The Wichita Wingnuts will welcome the Chicago Dogs to town on Friday to begin a three-game series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier