ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The Cleburne Railroaders played big roles in scoring all three runs for the South Division All-Star Team, but it came in a losing effort as the North squad claimed a 7-3 victory Tuesday night at CHS Field in the 2019 American Association All-Star Game.
Even facing all-star pitching, Cleburne third baseman Chase Simpson showed why he’s the American Association’s RBI leader and one of the top hitters in the league. After Sioux City’s Nate Samson hit a lead-off double against St. Paul starting pitcher Eddie Medina to open the game, Simpson followed with a two-run home run to give the South a 2-0 lead only two batters into action.
Simpson’s two-run blast was the only offense through the first three innings. In the top of the fourth, Cleburne catcher John Nester hit a one-out double and came around to score on an RBI double by Sioux Falls’ Alay Lago to give the South a 3-0 advantage.
By night’s end, Simpson and Nester accounted for as many baserunners (five) for the South team than the rest of the roster combined.
“It was a good performance for those guys on the offensive side,” Cleburne Field Manager Brent Clevlen said. “I think Railroaders players had two of the five hits and had a hand in all three runs. It was a good performance by those guys. ... Having five players represent the Railroaders was a good testament to the guys and the team that we’ve got.”
The North plated its first run in the home half of the fourth inning, which started a stretch of scoring at least one run over the final five innings for the North team, which was led by six players from the league-leading St. Paul Saints.
The North scored one run in the fifth and another in the sixth to knot things up at 3-3.
In the seventh inning, the North took its first lead, plating two runs for a 5-3 advantage.
In the eighth, Cleburne reliever Tyler Wilson got into some trouble as he allowed three walks and one hit, a two-run double. Fellow Cleburne pitcher Jesus Sanchez came in and got a line-out and strikeout to end the inning at 7-3.
After the strong start, thanks in large part to Simpson and Nester, the South was unable to generate any offense over the final five innings as the North pitchers dominated down the stretch.
Simpson finished 1-for-2 with two RBIs, two walks and a run while Nester went 1-for-3 with a run. Cleburne outfielder Zach Nehrir, who’s batting .302 on the season, went 0-for-4.
In the Jack Link’s American Association Home Run Derby on Monday night, Cleburne had two players in action in Simpson and Nester.
As the third batter in the competition, Nester hit 12 home runs in the first round as he really got things going. At one point, Nester hit homers on five consecutive swings as he got the crowd at CHS Field buzzing as the Railroader catcher advanced to the semifinals. There, Nester had another respectable double-digit outing with 10 homers, but Fargo-Moorhead’s Leo Pina hit 13 to advance to the finals.
Simpson hit five homers in the first round but was eliminated.
The Railroaders are scheduled to return to action Wednesday night in St. Paul in a matchup of first-place teams.
Cleburne carries an overall record of 35-25 into the three-game series against the Saints, while St. Paul boasts a 40-21 mark, tops in the American Association. Cleburne lead Sioux City by 3.5 games for first place in the South Division while St. Paul leads Fargo-Moorhead by two games for first in the North.
“It would be big to win this series,” Clevlen said. “They’re at the top of the North and we’re at the top of the South. We’re both trying to stay at the top, so it should be a good three-game series. Then we go to Chicago and they’re doing well; they’re in the mix for being one of the top-3 teams in the league. It should be a good series on the road here. Hopefully we can go out there and take care of business.”
Entering play Wednesday, Cleburne had five players with a batting average above .300 in Daniel Robertson (.331), Grant Buck (.328), K.C. Huth (.315), Simpson (.308) and Nehrir (.302).
After three games in St. Paul, the Railroaders head to Chicago for a three-game series with the Dogs. Then Cleburne plays three in Grand Prairie against the AirHogs on July 31-Aug. 2 before returning home for a six-game homestand Aug. 3-8 against Sioux Falls and Kansas City.
With the Railroaders currently holding a playoff spot with 40 games to go, Clevlen said the club has to take things one day at a time if they want to clinch their first playoff berth in franchise history.
“We can’t look ahead,” Clevlen said. “We’ve just got to look at things one game at a time. We’re in control of where we’re at since we’re at the top so we don’t have to count on anybody ahead of us to lose. We control our destiny. So we’ve got to stay focused and keep playing some good ball.”
Cleburne only has 12 home games remaining in the 2019 season. For information on tickets, call the Railroaders office at 817-945-8705 or visit the website at www.railroaderbaseball.com.