GRAND CHUTE, Wisc (WLMI) All-Star Justin Nicolinowas perfect into the fifth, finishing with a season-high eight strikeouts, and the Lansing Lugnuts (18-11, 65-33) hung on to top the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (13-16, 57-41), 7-5, on Sunday afternoon at Time Warner Cable Field.
Lansing, the first half Eastern Division Champion and owner of the best record in the minors, has won each of the first two games at Wisconsin, the first half Western Division Champion.
The 20-year-old Nicolino (Win, 6-2) mowed through the first 13 Wisconsin batters, with the spell broken by Nick Ramirez double to center in the fifth.
Meanwhile, the Lugnuts built a commanding 7-0 lead against Rattlers starter Mark Williams (Loss, 5-8), scoring a run in the first inning, three in the second (keyed by a Shane Opitz two-run automatic double), one in the third, and two more in the fourth on Kenny Wilson’s fourth home run of the year.
Brewers rehabbing catcher Jonathon Lucroy ended Nicolino’s shutout bid with a two-out, two-run single in the sixth inning.
The Lugnuts’ left-hander finished with four hits and zero walks allowed in six innings, giving him 86 strikeouts compared to only 13 walks in 83 1/3 innings.
Facing reliever Phil Brua, a Ramirez home run in the seventh and Rafael Neda RBI double in the eighth cut the Lugs’ lead to 7-4.
Lansing closer Ajay Meyer (Save, 27) served up a one-out homer Ben McMahan’s before finishing off Wisconsin for his third consecutive day with a save. Meyer, the Minor League leader in saves, pulled to within two of the Lugs’ single-season franchise record.
In the finale of the series, the Lugnuts will send righty Blake McFarland (4-3, 4.19) to the mound in search of the sweep. The Timber Rattlers counter with right-hander Jacob Barnes (3-2, 2.91) for Monday night’s 8:07 p.m. start.
Lansing returns home on a Summer Fun Day, Wednesday, July 25th, opening a six-game homestand at Cooley Law School Stadium. Tickets are available for purchase online at www.lansinglugnuts.com, at the stadium box office, and by calling 517-485-4500.