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SIOUX CITY – Two things became evident in a four-game season-opening series between the Sioux City Explorers and the Lincoln Saltdogs.

First, it seemed quite obvious that Lincoln should be in the American Association’s South Division playoff hunt after the Saltdogs escaped 10-8 in a wacky series finale Sunday afternoon and evening at Lewis and Clark Park.

Secondly, there were some major red flags for the Explorers, struggling for the third game in a row in multiple departments before some late-inning fireworks turned a seemingly insurmountable 10-1 deficit into a two-run loss.

It was the third straight Lincoln win since a 6-2 loss in the season’s first game, giving Manager Bobby Brown’s team a series victory against a Sioux City team that had gone 37-10 against Lincoln over the last four seasons.

A two-out rally in the third inning yielded five runs against X’s starter Eric Karch, a converted closer trying to transition to the starting rotation. And, the Saltdogs blew things wide open with three more runs in the fifth, which started with back-to-back home runs by holdovers Randolph Oduber and Curt Smith.

All of that made things easy for 35-year-old Lincoln starter John Brownell, an Omaha native pitching in the American Association for the first time after a whopping 11 years in three other independent leagues.

Brownell, who pitched the last six seasons for Long Island in the Atlantic League, surrendered a first-inning run on a base hit by Michael Lang and Jose Sermo’s run-scoring double. Those were the X’s only hits through Brownell’s six strong innings.

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It was a far different story against lefthander Tyler Anderson, who inherited the seemingly cozy 10-1 lead and then gave up five consecutive one-out singles. The big inning for Sioux City featured two-run singles by Nate Samson and backup catcher Hunter Ward, making things surprisingly interesting.

And that only got better after Sermo’s eighth-inning single gave last year’s league MVP a three-RBI night and pulled the hosts within two runs.

In the ninth, however, former Nebraska All-American Jake Hohensee overcame two more off the nine hits the X’s mustered off the Lincoln bullpen to pick up his second save.

Karch, who rarely pitched more than an inning while chalking up 21 saves as last year’s closer, hit a wall in the third inning. He had two runners on bases when a two-out pitch grazed the sleeve of Oduber, a native of Aruba, loading the bases.

That seemingly minor bit of tough luck turned into a nightmare starting with a bases-loaded walk to Curt Smith that erased the Explorers’ early 1-0 lead. Then came a two-out single for red-hot Tyler Moore – the eighth hit in his first 12 at-bats – and a two-run double by Cody Regis, whose 34 postseason games is a school record at UCLA.

Oduber opened the fifth with a missile that ripped through a brisk wind to clear the left-field wall. Two pitches later, seventh-year Lincoln veteran Curt Smith, a native of Curacao, also overpowered the elements with a bomb that sailed out of the park in centerfield.

Lincoln tacked on an unearned run after rookie centerfielder Daytona Bryden dropped a routine fly ball with two away, then came around to score on pinch-hitter Noah Cummings base hit. And that was the end of the line for Karch, piling up 98 pitches without making it through five full innings.

Two more runs came off reliever Carlos Sierra, allowing three hits in a sixth inning that included a rare error by shortstop Nate Samson. It was a league-worst seventh error in the first four games for a Sioux City team that enjoyed one of the league’s premier defenses a year ago.

This was just the fifth start in 121 professional appearances for Karch, who never pitched more than 2 2/3 innings while striking out 61 batters in 43 2/3 innings last year. He had also started only four games in 106 outings during four seasons at Pepperdine University.

After a day off Monday, the Sioux City plays 13 of its next 16 games on the road, heading to Gary for a three-game series starting Tuesday night.

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