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The Lincoln Saltdogs went toe-to-toe with the best team in the American Association's South Division, the Cleburne Railroaders, through 12 innings Wednesday in a 4-hour, 20-minute Haymarket Park slugfest.

Then Saltdog first baseman Curt Smith delivered the knockout blow with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th to defeat the Railroaders 9-8.

The Saltdogs (39-55) know how the 2019 season ends for them, missing the playoffs, but Cleburne (55-40) is fighting for a playoff spot and is currently tied for the division lead with the Sioux City Explorers. Kansas City, the 2018 American Association champion, is one game behind.

“Our guys have continued to play hard, and that was a fun game to be a part of right there,” Lincoln manager Bobby Brown said. “It's fun to be a part of a playoff race even though we aren't in it.”

Lincoln hammered four long balls, including one hit by Forrestt Allday in the bottom of the first to knot the score 1-1. It was Allday's second of the season and first in a Saltdogs uniform.

The Saltdogs took an early lead, belting three home runs in the first three innings for a 5-2 advantage.

“Our guys came out and swung the bats good,” Brown said.

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Cody Regis nearly hit the same spot Allday found in right field with a two-run blast in the second, his 16th of the season, and Josh Mazzola capped the early slugging with a two-run blast in the third. It was Mazzola's fifth homer since joining Lincoln.

Cleburne had a flurry of blows, scoring runs in five consecutive innings from the third through the seventh, and took an 8-6 lead.

Lincoln starting pitcher Ricky Knapp lasted 4 1/3 innings, leaving after Cleburne knotted the game 5-5 with two runs in the fifth. Shairon Martis entered with the bases loaded and induced a double play to end the top half of the inning. Allday helped Lincoln regain a 6-5 advantage when he scored on a wild pitch in the fifth before the Railroaders put the Saltdogs on the ropes by scoring the next three runs.

But it was the Lincoln bullpen that stepped up in a big way, keeping Cleburne scoreless after the seventh and allowing just two hits. Martire Garcia (2-1) picked up the victory with one inning of work.

“It was a great job by our bullpen tonight, but they have been great as of late anyways,” Brown said.”

Lincoln and Cleburne continue the Saltdogs' final home series of the season Thursday at 7 p.m.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7431 or tgray@journalstar.com.

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