Cullen Smith delivers the hit of the night with a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.
BISMARCK, ND – Even Hollywood couldn’t write a better script than what happened tonight at the Bismarck Municipal Ballpark, Home of Dakota Community Bank and Trust Field in the Bismarck Larks Inaugural home opener.
The Larks defeated the Eau Claire Express 2-1 in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the ninth inning. Cullen Smith (East Tennessee St) was the hero of the night driving in Bismarck native Quinn Irey (Jamestown University) on an opposite field single.
Offense was few and far between thanks to the two starting southpaws of tonight’s contest. For Eau Claire, it was Ethan Nichols out of the Air Force Academy. The lefty pitcher stifled the Larks lineup throwing six innings of shutout baseball allowing just five hits.
For the hometown Larks, it was Ryan Byrd out of the Community Colleges of Spokane. Byrd fired seven innings of shutout baseball giving up three hits while striking out 10 hitters. What else could you expect? Ryan Byrd was starting for the Bismarck Larks in its first game in franchise history.
After the seventh, when the lights kicked on, that’s when the offense decided to show up.
David Salguiero (LSU Shreveport) got the scoring started in the bottom of the seventh inning. The centerfielder and lead-off man utilized his speed beating out a slow grounder for an infield, two-out, RBI single driving home Smith.
The Express wasted no time answering the Larks when Justin Evans (Columbus State) and Tanner Umentum (Madison College) got back-to-back singles with two outs in the top of the eighth inning. Tyler Steele (Vanguard University), who had relieved Byrd of his pitchers duties, caught Umentum leaning at first base. Steele picked over and to the Larks surprise Evans took off from third without a throw scoring the game tying run.
With the score now tied at one, the Larks weren’t out of the inning quite yet. Steele had to deal with one of Express’ best hitters in Nic Ready (Air Force Academy). Ready provided what was thought to be the go-ahead hit when he launched a double to the right field wall.
To the Larks pleasure, the ball got caught in the right field wall ivy. Hunter Wilcher (Central Christian College), the right fielder for the Larks, intelligently threw up his hands indicating that the ball was lost in the shrubbery.
Umentum had returned to first base on the Steele pick-off earlier in the inning keeping him held at third base when the ground-rule double was signaled. Steele bounced back after giving up the loud hit by striking out the fourth place hitter for the Express, Daniel Jones (Air Force Academy).
The strikeout by Steele ended the top of the eighth inning stranding two out of the six total baserunners in the season opener for the Express.
A quiet bottom of the eighth inning for the Larks and a quiet top of the ninth for the Express set the stage for the Larks to do something special in their first game in team history.
The Larks delivered.
Quinn Irey, the Bismarck kid, led off the bottom of the ninth with a double into the left-center field gap. The Larks got their first extra-base hit on the night and the next man to step into the box wanted to reward that.
That was Cullen Smith. Smith went 2 for 3 in the contest with a pair of singles, one walk, and most importantly, one RBI.
That lone RBI off the bat of Smith proved to be a historical hit in Bismarck Larks history. Smith flared the ball into left field where Umentum came up short on a diving attempt to save the game. The ball trickled past the Express left fielder and the rest was history.
The Larks move to 1-0 on the season with the Express falling to 0-1. The winning pitcher in tonight’s contest was Tyler Steele and the losing pitcher was Jake Moebius.
The Larks and Express return to action tomorrow with a 7:05pm first pitch at The Nest.
Make sure to grab your tickets for the rest of Opening Week at larksbaseball.com.
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The Bismarck Larks are apart of the proven leader in the development of elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 23-year old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 170 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champion Ben Zobrist (CHC) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM) and Lucas Duda (NYM). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League website. For more information, visit www.northwoodsleague.com or download the Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store or on Google Play.