Dragons wrap up season with walk-off win

The Dayton Dragons ended their 2019 season with a bang.

Ernesto Liberatore’s walk-off single with the bases loaded in the ninth inning gave the Dragons a 5-4 victory over the West Michigan Whitecaps in front of 8,170 fans on Monday afternoon at Fifth Third Field.

It was the 11th time the Dragons won a game in walk-off fashion this season.

“I just cleared by mind and tried to see the ball and hit the ball,” Liberatore said. “I’m just trying to help the team win.”

With the win, the Dragons finished the regular season 58-82.

“It feels good to finish the year like this on a walk-off,” said Dragons manager Luis Bolivar. “I never thought it was going to end up like this. It’s nice to finish this way. The guys battled to the end. They never give up.”

Five Dragons players each had two hits — Liberatore, Miles Gordon, Claudio Finol, Morgan Lofstrom and Juan Martinez.

The Dragons loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning. Liberatore worked the count to 3-1, smashing a single between the shortstop and third baseman to end the game.

“I leave it up to them in that situation,” Bolivar said. “It was meant to be. It was a situation where it worked out.”

With two outs in the fifth inning, the Whitecaps’ Daniel Reyes homered to left center field, making it 2-0.

The Dragons tied it in the bottom of the inning. Dayton’s Miles Gordon tripled and scored on a single by Claudio Finol. With two outs, Morgan Lofstrom singled, scoring Finol from second base to tie the game.

The Whitecaps reclaimed the lead in the seventh inning. Riley Greene, a first-round draft pick the Detroit Tigers in June, singled, stole second base and scored on a single by Andre Lipcius.

Dayton took a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning. Cameron Warren and Juan Martinez each singled and scored on a double by Schuyler.

The Whitecaps tied the score in the top of the ninth. Wenceel Perez singled to open the inning and moved to third on a single by Dayton Dugas. The next batter, Greene, hit a fly ball to left field, scoring Perez to tie the game.

Dayton starter Clate Schmidt pitched five innings, allowing two runs on five hits with four strikeouts and five walks. Matt Pidich earned the victory, despite giving up the tying run in the ninth inning.

The Dragons set several milestones this season, including:

● Michael Siani led the Midwest League in stolen bases with 45. He became the third player in Dragons history to accomplish the feat, joining Jose Siri (2017) and Billy Hamilton (2011).

● From June 2 through June 12, the Dragons won 10 straight games, tying the second-longest winning streak in team history.

● Dragons catcher Pabel Manzanero became the fourth Dragons player in team history to hit three home runs in a game against Lake County on April 23. The other three former Dragons were Wily Mo Pena (2001), Juan Francisco (2007) and Byron Wiley (2009).

● Brian Rey broke the club record for most RBIs in a game, driving in eight runs against Fort Wayne on July 27. The previous record was held by Joey Votto and Adam Dunn.

● For the 20th straight season, the Dragons led all of Single-A baseball in attendance, drawing 553,000 fans for an average of 8,014 per night. The Dragons have sold out 1,385 consecutive games.

The Dragons missed the playoffs for the second straight season. However, the team improved greatly during the season, especially considering all that the city has gone through since it began last April including the Memorial Day tornadoes and the Oregon District shooting, Bolivar said.

“I’m very proud of them,” he said. “They work hard. They give you the best effort. I’m very pleased and happy with that. … The guys learned a lot and developed. I’m grateful that they finished the year strong and I hope the best for them for years to come.”

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