The Wingnuts were a pitch away from bringing the tying run to the plate on Wednesday, which is almost as impressive as their performance during their seven-game winning streak.
Lincoln had many early chances to break the game open, and when the Saltdogs finally did, the Wingnuts didn't let a big deficit bury them. A late rally fell short, though, and the Wingnuts lost 8-5 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, their first loss since July 6 at St. Paul.
"Good to see," Wingnuts manager Kevin Hooper said. "We can't win them all, no doubt about it. But we fought. That was good to see. Good to see the intensity until the very end."
Wingnuts starting pitcher Adam Cowart made it through six innings but was far from his best, allowing a second-inning home run to Lincoln catcher Pat Trettle and struggling to get back on track after that.
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Cowart walked four and allowed 11 hits, but Lincoln never took a commanding lead thanks to 11 runners left on base in the first six innings. Cowart handed the game and a 4-2 deficit to Brandon Mathes to start the seventh.
"He actually pitched all right," Wingnuts catcher Jeff Christy said. "He had pretty good movement. You tip your hat to them for some good swings. On a day like today, you get some balls up in the wind and you never know what's going to happen. He's working on some things. He's still pitching good for us, but we have to do stuff behind him, too."
Last season, Cowart allowed plenty of baserunners but escaped jams often with double play groundballs before runs scored. In 2010 he has similarly escaped jams, but usually not before an opposing hitter crosses the plate. His ERA last season was 3.05; this year it's 4.61.
"Still wasn't himself tonight, I don't think," Hooper said. "Wasn't as crisp, definitely, as I've seen him, like he was last start or a couple starts ago when he was pretty good. And we're walking some guys — walking more guys than he usually does."
The Wingnuts scored a run after Lincoln went ahead 3-0 and adding another when the Saltdogs took a four-run lead.
Lincoln's most important clutch hit came with help. With two outs in the seventh, No. 9 hitter Vance Albitz hit a groundball to second baseman Rene Ruiz, who booted it and allowed Lincoln's top of the order to come up.
Gavin Dickey singled off Mathes, and one pitch after fouling a ball off his foot, Rafael Alvarez hit a three-run homer down the left field line to put Lincoln ahead 7-2. A run in the eighth made it a six-run lead.
"We can't keep booting balls, I know that," Hooper said. "We can't just keep kicking balls around and expecting to win."
The Wingnuts finally got to Lincoln starter Tim Brown in the top of the eighth. During most of the first seven innings, Wichita hitters were without patient approaches, allowing Brown to get through three innings on fewer than 10 pitches. They swung on no-strike counts 14 times in the first seven innings.
In the eighth, the Wingnuts made Brown work. Ryan Patterson drew a one-out walk before Jorge Cortes walked on four pitches. Melian drove in two runs with an RBI and Mario Delgado just missed a two-run homer with a flyout to the warning track in right-center.
"I actually thought I got it," Delgado said. "I guess the crosswind kind of killed it."
Christy doubled in a run to make it 8-5, and in the ninth Patterson walked with two outs against Lincoln closer Chris Thompson before Cortes went to a 3-1 count. He took the next pitch for a strike and swung and missed on the next to end the game and the streak. The Wingnuts remain tied for the North Division second-half lead with Sioux Falls at 7-2.
"Our momentum, it didn't slow down," Delgado said. "Even though we lost, I don't think our momentum slowed down. We're still on a positive note. We almost came back and won that game and we're still smiling."
Dickey cf6230Horn ss4001
Alvarez rf6134Patterson cf3100
Richardson 3b2000Cortes rf3110
Jones 3b1000Melian lf4112
Camacho dh5140Delgado dh4010
Hawke 1b4121Christy c4111
Trettel c4112Pearson 1b3020
Machado ss3001Bell 3b4120
Nunez lf4110Ruiz 2b3000
Totals 40 8 15 8Totals 32o5o8o4
Lincoln020 110 310 — 8 Wichita000 110 030 — 5
E—Horn (10), Ruiz (5). LOB — Lincoln 13, Wichita 7. 2B — Alvarez (17), Camacho 2 (11), Melian (3), Delgado (15), Christy (3), Bell (2). 3B — Dickey (4). SF — Horn (2).
Brown W, 7-57 2/385531
Thompson S, 16100013
Cowart L, 3-66114445
T — 3:09. A — 3,120.