Luis Ayala capped a three-run ninth with a two-out single to right Thursday night as South Bend rallied for the second time in three nights to defeat the Dayton Dragons 5-4 at Fifth Third Field.
Dayton loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Tyler Stephenson grounded into a game-ending double play.
“The baseball gods surprised us,” Dragons manager Luis Bolivar said. “I thought we battled out there, but you never know.”
Stephenson, the Reds top draft pick in 2016, worked the count full after Wyatt Short had loaded the bases on two walks and a single by Taylor Trammell. But the Dragons’ catcher the ball to second to begin the game ender.
The Dragons battled from behind twice to tie the game at 1-1 and 2-2 before taking a 4-2 lead in the seventh on a home run by Cassidy Brown and a throwing error that allowed Louis Gonzalez to score.
The home run by Brown was his first as a Dragon and just his second professional homer.
Dragon tales: It was a record-breaking night for Gonzalez.
Gonzalez played in his 259th game for the Dragons, breaking the club record for most games played.
Former first baseman Havelito Hernandez held the club record with 258 games between 2004 and 2006.
Playoff race: The Dragons, Cubs and West Michigan enter the final stretch of the first half in a battle for the two Midwest League Eastern Division playoff spots.
West Michigan (36-17) pushed their lead to two games over the Dragons with a 3-2 win at Great Lakes Thursday.
South Bend cut Dayton’s lead to one game for the second playoff spot.
All three teams have 17 games remaining in the 70-game first half.
FSL All-Stars: A quartet of former Dragons will take part in the Florida State League All-Star game.
Third baseman Nick Senzel will start for the North team after getting off to a strong start for Daytona (High-A).
Senzel is hitting .298 with three homers and a league leading 20 doubles.
Shed Long (.320, 9 HR, 30 RBI) and Chris Okey (.169, 1, 12) are reserves for the North squad while Tanner Rainey (0-2, 6 saves, 3.91 ERA) is on the pitching staff.
On deck: The Dragons welcome the struggling Fort Wayne Tincaps to Fifth Third at 7 p.m. Friday.
Righty Andrew Jordan will look to improve to 4-3 as he gets the start against Fort Wayne.
The Tincaps enter the series 1-9 in their last 10 games and are 18-36, and is the lone team in the East to be mathematically eliminated from the first-half playoff spots.