Nick Rotola

Nick Rotola and the Cleburne Railroaders split a four-game series in Lincoln over the weekend. The ‘Roaders returned home Monday and began a six-game homestand Tuesday.

LINCOLN, Nebraska — In their first road trip of the 2019 season, the Cleburne Railroaders managed a split in a four-game series against the Lincoln Saltdogs over the weekend.

The Saltdogs took the series opener, 3-2, in a weather-shortened game Thursday. Cleburne won the next two games, 7-5 and 4-2, on Friday and Saturday, then Lincoln closed out the four-game set with a 6-3 win Sunday.

“You at least try to get a split on the road,” Cleburne Manager Brent Clevlen said. “Unfortunately that first night the weather didn’t cooperate with us and the game ended shortly. It would’ve been nice to win one more. But taking a split on the road is always good. We’re battling some injuries right now and trying to fill some holes but we were able to scratch out a couple wins and I’ll take that on the road any time.”

The Railroaders have been without three starting position players for more than a week, which has forced a couple of emergency signings as well as playing a few players out of their natural position.

“It’s made things a little difficult,” Clevlen said. “We’ve had some guys out of position and at spots they don’t normally play but you have to go through that sometimes in the season especially in the American Association with a short roster. Sometimes you’ll have a few guys playing out of position but that’s why it’s key to have guys on your team who can play multiple positions. We’ve been able to stay a game over .500 through it and we’re getting healthy. I think it’s just a matter of time until things start to click and we get rolling.”

The 2-2 showing at Lincoln gave the Railroaders a 6-5 mark heading into a six-game homestand, which begins at 7:06 p.m. Tuesday night against Fargo-Moorhead.

In the series finale Sunday in Lincoln, the Saltdogs’ bullpen tossed 4 2/3 scoreless innings to record the series split with a 6-3 win.

Lincoln (5-5) jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning as the Saltdogs strung together four consecutive hits.

But it took just one swing of the bat for Cleburne to answer in the third as Chase Simpson launched a three-run homer to left field that tied the game. It was Simpson’s league-leading fifth home run of the year, and his league-leading 13th, 14th, and 15th RBIs.

Lincoln’s John Sansone gave Lincoln a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning with a solo home run to left.

Cleburne was held to just two hits over the final five innings, although the ‘Roaders did manage a strong threat in the fifth inning. Cleburne loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch, walk and single by Simpson, but the Railroaders left the bases stranded after a strikeout and ground-out.

Lincoln’s Cody Regis provided the final blow in the sixth inning with a two-run shot for a 6-3 advantage, and the Lincoln bullpen did the rest as Cleburne was unable to get a runner in scoring position over the final four innings.

In game 3 of the series Saturday, the Railroaders claimed a 4-2 win over the Saltdogs thanks to a four-run inning and a strong start from Charlie Gillies.

After Lincoln grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning, the Railroaders did all their scoring in the top of the fifth. Following a Nick Rotola sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-1, Zach Nehrir pounded a two-run homer to left and Simpson followed with a solo shot on the 11th pitch of his at-bat to put Cleburne in front 4-1.

That would be more than enough support for Gillies, who picked up the win with six quality innings, allowing nine hits and just two runs, one earned. The right-hander struck out seven and walked only one, and the bullpen kept Lincoln off the scoreboard the rest of the year. 

On Friday, Cleburne captured a wild 7-5 win over the Saltdogs.

After taking an early 5-0 lead and giving it all back, the Railroaders scratched across a pair of runs in the top of the ninth inning without a hit.

It was all Cleburne early, as a solo home run from Meimerstorf and a two-run shot from Audie Afenir put the Railroaders in front 3-0 after four innings of play. Rotola added an RBI triple and Nehrir followed with an RBI single to give Cleburne a 5-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth. 

That’s when things began to unravel for Cleburne as the first three Lincoln hitters reached base, loading the bases with no outs. A sacrifice fly and RBI single made it 5-2, then a Cleburne error plated another run. 

Lincoln completed the comeback with two runs in the bottom of the eighth to tie it at 5-5.

The Railroaders responded thanks to some Lincoln charity in the top of the ninth. After a leadoff walk to Afenir, he was bunted to second by Logan Trowbridge. A wild pitch moved Afenir to third, then two more walks loaded the bases. Rotola beat out a fielder’s choice grounder to score one run, then a wild pitch scored another to produce the game’s final margin.

Cleburne closer Tyler Wilson struck out the side, working around two walks to nail down the victory.

In the series opener Thursday, Cleburne dropped a 3-2 decision in a weather-shortened six-inning affair.

With Lincoln batting in the bottom of the sixth, rain began to fall. The grounds crew covered the infield, but with more storms in the area and a playing surface already saturated with rain from earlier in the day, the decision was made to call the game.

Moving forward, Clevlen said there are two areas the Railroaders need to improve on.

“We need to really clean up our defense,” Clevlen said. “We’ve been making too many errors. I think we’re leading the league in errors at the moment. A lot of that is guys trying to do too much instead of making the routine play and just getting an out. They need to stay within themselves and control what they can control. Pitching wise we have a lot of great arms but I feel like we’re walking too many guys. We’re stressing to our pitchers to pitch to contact and not strike guys out from the get-go. 

“So the main two keys for us are errors and walks. If we can clean that up, and stop giving teams extra opportunities to score, I think we’ll be where we want to be.”

The Railroaders now settle in for six straight at home with a pair of three-game series against the RedHawks and the St. Paul Saints. 

“We’ve got Fargo and St. Paul coming in, three games apiece, and we’ll look to take two out of three and win each series,” Clevlen said. “That’s our goal every series is to win the series. It’d be nice to sweep them but if you take two out of three all year long, you’ll be in good position come end of the year.”

Clevlen said the players appreciate the fan support out at The Depot.

“We want the fans to come out and enjoy a night at the ballpark and enjoy a quality game of baseball,” Clevlen said. “I feel like we have a good product out there. We’ve got a lot of good players. The more support we have in the stands, I feel like the players perform better with that fan support behind them.”

First pitch for games tonight through Saturday are scheduled for 7:06 p.m. while first pitch for Sunday’s game against St. Paul is set for 6:05 p.m. at The Depot.

For information on partnerships, season tickets, group outings, and party packages, call the Railroaders office at 817-945-8705 or visit the website at www.railroaderbaseball.com.

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