First things first for the Lincoln Saltdogs: They're the American Association's Central Division champions.

The Saltdogs salted away a playoff berth and won their first division title since 2014 with a 3-1 win over the Gary SouthShore RailCats on Friday night in Gary, Indiana.

The Saltdogs struck for a run in the first inning when Cesar Valera came home on Nathaniel Maggio's fielder's choice.

After Gary SouthShore tied it with a run in the sixth, Lincoln struck right back  in the seventh on Juan Martinez's two-run homer.

From there, it was shutdown work from the Saltdogs' bullpen, with Casey Crosby, Cameron McVey and Michael Wagner each working a scoreless inning. Wagner struck out three and allowed a hit in collecting his 21st save.

Then Lincoln could savor its first playoff appearance in three seasons and third since the 2010 season. The Saltdogs lead Kansas City by 3½ games with three to play. The T-Bones and Gary SouthShore remain alive for a wild card spot.

Left-hander Brian Smith had a strong start for the Saltdogs, scattering six hits and allowing an unearned run in 5.2 innings. He kept the ball in play, striking out one and walking two. Smith didn't get the win, though; J.R. Bunda improved to 10-1 this season after pitching just one-third of an inning, allowing a run-scoring hit before the trail runner was thrown out in the sixth.


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