SIOUX CITY, Iowa — After seeing their lead for first place in the South Division shrink to one game, the Cleburne Railroaders recorded a huge series win over second-place Sioux City over the weekend.

Cleburne won the first two games of the series before the Explorers salvaged the finale Sunday.

Entering play Monday, the Railroaders held a two-game lead over Sioux City for the top spot in the division with a 47-32 record.

In the series opener Friday, the Railroaders scratched out a wildly entertaining 1-0 win in 11 innings at Lewis and Clark Park.

With two on and two outs for Cleburne in the top of the 11th, Zach Nehrir hit a slow dribbler up the third base line that Jose Sermo barehanded and threw wildly to first. The errant throw allowed Daniel Robertson, who had reached on a one-out walk, to come in and score the go-ahead run. 

Sioux City threatened in the bottom of the inning, getting a lead-off single from Drew Stankiewicz. Cleburne closer Tyler Wilson retired the next two hitters on pop-ups to Robertson, then John Nester gunned down Stankiewicz trying to steal second base to end the game. The caught stealing secured Wilson’s 19th save of the season. 

The story of the night was Cleburne’s defense, which denied Sioux City time and time again to preserve the scoreless deadlock. Michael Gunn retired the first nine Explorers he faced, but ran into trouble in the fourth inning when Sioux City loaded the bases with two outs. A line drive to center from Stankiewicz was speared by Nehrir on a diving snag in center to end the inning. 

The Explorers then threatened in similar fashion in the fifth, loading the bases with two outs yet again. Jeremy Hazelbaker blasted a long drive to left field that Angel Reyes ran down on the warning track to end the threat again with no runs.

Gunn ended with a no-decision in his first start since being activated off the Inactive List. The southpaw worked five shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out three.

Greyfer Eregua was excellent in relief for Cleburne as he kept the game tied with 3.1 scoreless innings of action. The Explorers threatened against him in the bottom of the ninth with consecutive one-out singles and a chance to win in walk-off fashion, but Nefi Ogando (4-4) came out of the bullpen to retire the next two batters. Then in the 10th inning, Ogando picked up a big strikeout to strand two more Sioux City runners. The Explorers stranded 11 runners total for the game.

Cleburne collected only five hits on the night with Robertson leading the way with a 1-for-3 outing with a walk and run.

In game 2 of the pivotal series, Cleburne didn’t wait long to get the bats going as the Railroaders exploded for six runs in the top of the first inning en route to a 10-1 win over Sioux City

Cleburne starter Stephen Johnson (7-1) carried a no-hitter through 5.2 innings. He tossed seven innings with just two hits and one run allowed with three strikeouts for the win. 

The victory locked down Cleburne’s first-ever series win at Sioux City, and it matched the franchise record for wins in a season at 47.

To get Cleburne’s six-run first inning started, Nehrir doubled home a run, then Nester ripped a sacrifice fly to double the lead. With two outs and runners at the corners, Grant Buck smacked a single up the middle that scored two runs, pushing the lead to 4-0.

After a Nick Rotola walk, Logan Trowbridge put the finishing touches on the inning with a two-run, opposite field double that gave the Railroaders a commanding 6-0 advantage.

Cleburne’s offense continued to add on throughout the night. Nehrir cranked a solo homer in the fourth that made it 7-0, then a Reyes RBI single in the sixth extended the lead to 8-0. 

Rotola answered Sioux City’s run with an RBI double in the top of the seventh, before Buck plated the final tally of the night on a ninth inning RBI grounder. 

Edward Cruz and Bryan Saucedo each tossed a scoreless inning in relief to help secure the win.

Reyes, Nehrir, Brett, Buck and Rotola each collected two base hits in the win as Cleburne pounded out 14 base hits total. Nehrir, Trowbridge and Buck each recorded two RBIs.

In Sunday’s series finale, the Explorers avoided the sweep by overcoming a 4-1 deficit for a 6-5 win to salvage the finale.

The Railroaders held leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-1 before the Explorers tied it in the fifth inning. 

Sioux City took the lead in the sixth inning on a two-out RBI single, then the Explorers added a key insurance run with an RBI triple in the seventh. In the ninth inning, Reyes hit a two-out solo homer but Sioux City closer Matt Pobereyko nailed down his 23rd save of the season.

The Railroaders continue their road swing with a three-game series against the Kansas City T-Bones at 7:05 p.m. Monday night.

Cleburne is set to return home Thursday for a three-game series against Sioux City in what will likely be another huge battle for first place in the division. The Railroaders have only six home games remaining this season.

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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