WICHITA, Kan. | Jose Sermo allowed the Sioux City Explorers to ride on his back Sunday afternoon.
Sermo smacked two home runs, including a three-run shot in the top of the sixth inning that snapped a scoreless tie and triggered the South Division leaders to a 4-0 American Association win over the Wichita Wingnuts at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. The Wingnuts were eliminated from playoff consideration following the defeat.
Sermo also added a solo home run in the eighth inning for Manager Steve Montgomery’s 71-28 squad. The Explorers also received a strong seven innings from starting pitcher Luis Mateo, who allowed three hits and struck out five.
Montgomery’s club will face Kansas City (61-36) in the South Division playoffs. The two teams will begin the five-game playoff series Tuesday night.
The starting times for Tuesday and Wednesday night’s games at Kansas City were not determined at the time the Journal went to press. There will be a travel day on Thursday, then Sioux City will host Game 3 beginning at 7:05 Friday night.
Games 4 and 5 (if necessary) will also be held at Sioux City. The fourth game would start at 7:05 Saturday night and the fifth would be contested at 6:05 Sunday.
Montgomery’s squad ended a six-game losing streak in the series against Wichita (60-39), which needed to win both Sunday and Monday’s season finale to remain in playoff contention. The Wingnuts also needed help from Gary SouthShore, which was facing Kansas City. Incidentally, Gary SouthShore and St. Paul will meet in the North Division playoffs.
Sermo enjoyed his third multi-home run game of the season, two which have come at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Prior to his sixth-inning home run, Mateo and Charlie Gillies were engaged in a pitcher’s duel.
Mateo (11-5) escaped damage when Wichita stranded two runners in both the first and fourth innings. Third-inning action saw the Explorers’ right-hander coax speedy Zach Nehrir to ground into a 6-4-3 double play that was aided by a strong throw by second baseman Jay Baum to first base.
Gillies (7-7) was facing Sioux City for the first time this season. He walked Michael Lang to lead off the sixth inning and Nate Samson reached on a fielder’s choice, aided by a pair of shaky defensive plays by the Wingnuts.
Samson’s hard shot bounced off the glove of shortstop Leo Vargas. He was able to recover the ball, but threw a shovel pass to second baseman Logan Watkins.
Sermo then unleashed a shot over the center field fence to snap the scoreless tie. Two innings later, Sermo rapped his 22nd home run of the season, a shot over the left field wall.
Sermo, incidentally, hit two home runs in a 20-10 win over the Wingnuts on June 30. The Explorers’ slugging third baseman had a wonderful month of August where he hit .311 in 29 games with seven home runs and 27 RBIs while adding 21 runs, six doubles, a triple, 29 walks and 10 stolen bases.
Not long after Sermo’s homer, rain began to fall and there was a 1 ½-hour delay. Following the delay, Montgomery inserted Patrick Schuster to take over for Mateo, who had thrown 79 pitches in his stint.
Schuster walked Watkins to lead off the eighth and was replaced on the mound by Parker Markel, who fanned three of the four batters he faced, including the American Association’s home run leader, Tony Thomas (23), who had been whiffed twice by Mateo.
Bullpen ace Eric Karch then retired each of the three Wingnuts he faced in the bottom of the ninth.