DICKINSON, ND – A short bullpen came back to doom the Western Nebraska Pioneers in a walk-off loss to the Badlands Big Sticks on Thursday at Astoria Field by a score of 9-8.
It was the second one-run loss in as many days for the Pioneers (32-14), who lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly six weeks. Badlands (25-21) rallied in the bottom of the ninth off of Pioneers reliever Alex Jorgensen, who had good command but was unlucky with balls in play during his outing.
Jorgensen struck out Ben Thoma to lead off the bottom of the ninth, but Thoma reached on a dropped third strike. After going up 0-2 on pinch-hitter Kaleb Binstock, Jorgensen missed with a fastball that spiked Binstock’s foot and put two runners on. A batter later, the light-hitting DeAndre Pitts laced a run-scoring double, and then Auggie Francis’ three-run shot ended it for good without a single out being recorded. The Pioneers were without their two leaders in saves: Jeff Hakanson (illness) and Cameron Richman (family obligations).
Offensively and in terms of starting pitching, it could not have gone much better for the Pioneers. They used the hitter-friendly tendencies of Astoria Field to their advantage, launching a team-record five home runs, including two off of the bat of Jack Pauley, who now sits in a tie for fourth league-wide in home runs. Nolan Metcalf had a 4-for-5 day with three extra-base hits in his first game back from Taiwan with the Pioneers.
Jack Sinclair started for the Pioneers and allowed three earned runs on three hits and three walks over six innings, with the only blemish of his outing being a three-run homer allowed to Badlands shortstop Wyatt Setian in the first inning. Badlands right-hander Matt Graser was ineffective as a starter, allowing seven runs over five innings on ten hits, but Connor Grytdal, making his first relief appearance of the season, came up huge for Badlands with four innings of one-run ball.
After their third walk-off loss of the season, the Pioneers will look to salvage one win on the road trip when they head to Spearfish on Friday for a 6:35 PM MST first pitch. Jonny Petsch is scheduled to start for the Pioneers.