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Rubber game

Sabre Dogs outlast Pioneers in competitive 6-5 contest

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Souris Valley second baseman Justin Cooper throws the ball to first base during the seventh inning of Sunday afternoon's game against the Western Nebraska Pioneers at Corbett Field. The Sabre Dogs claimed a 6-5 victory over the Pioneers.

Although the Western Nebraska Pioneers did not muster a hit in the first seven innings, Sunday’s afternoon’s game between the Pioneers and the Souris Valley Sabre Dogs was rife with twists and turns.

The Sabre Dogs (14-14) earned a 6-5 win over the Pioneers (12-18) in the matinee, but the victory did not come easily. While trailing 6-1 in the top of the eighth inning, Western Nebraska catcher Josh Davis turned the tide with a grand slam.

Sabre Dogs reliever Tanner Riley displayed his mettle in the final frame. After allowing four runs in the eighth, Riley regrouped and earned the save.

“It’s always interesting,” Sabre Dogs head coach Corey Thompson said. “Tanner Riley is the best arm — probably in the league — in the back end. Probably the best closer in the league. He gives up a grand slam, but I don’t want to put anybody else out there with the ball with the game on the line in the ninth. He was our guy, and he ended up being our guy at the end.”

The Pioneers scored the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second inning. Souris Valley starter Josh Robins was unfazed by the tally and struck out seven batters in four innings of work.

Bo McClintock’s sacrifice fly tied the action at 1-1 in the bottom of the fifth inning. In the sixth, the Sabre Dogs made a statement.

Josh Solomon hustled to first base on a dropped third strike. While the Pioneers rushed to make the play at first base, Cullen Hannigan scampered around third and headed for home.

Hannigan slid in safely for the go-ahead run. Western Nebraska’s decision proved costly, as Mason Dinesen smacked a deep fly ball that carried over the fence in left field.

With the 4-1 advantage in hand, Dinesen breathed a sigh of relief and took inventory of his surroundings.

“Believe it or not, it’s more of a still feeling for me,” he said about hitting the home run. “I’m going to soak in the moment and not listen to the crowd. I just realize, ‘Hey, you just hit a home run.'”

McClintock followed suit with a two-run mash in the bottom of the seventh. His big fly provided the run support the Sabre Dogs craved.

“Two big returners hit two big home runs right there to put us up,” Thompson said. “Pretty insurmountable, and it proved to be true. Those were the game-winners. It was fun to watch those guys do it again. I’m going to keep running those guys out there.”

The deep grand slam provided some intrigue, but the Pioneers went down quietly from there. Riley worked a 1-2-3 ninth and sealed the series victory.

“In a one-run game or a blowout, we’re playing as hard as we can,” Thompson said. “I like that.”

The four Souris Valley pitchers (Robins, Max Kendall, Aaron Kern and Riley) combined to strike out 12 Pioneers.

“We have some good arms out there,” Dinesen said. “They compete, and that’s really good. They’ll have a bad inning, but they’ll bounce back and throw up zeroes.”

The Sabre Dogs are off today. They will host the Badlands Big Sticks at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday, but rest and relaxation are paramount in the abbreviated season.

“I may make a lake trip,” Thompson said. “It will be a good day.”

Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.

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