Gunned down: Express beat Bucks with wild ending
He isn't known for having a cannon of an arm, and he had been dealing with a lingering back injury, stacking the odds against Eau Claire Express outfielder Jake Mavropolous from throwing out the game-tying run at the plate in the top of the ninth.
But the Oxnard Community College sophomore launched a strike from right field on a scorching base hit to give the Express a 4-3 win over the Waterloo Bucks in front of a lively 2,116-people deep crowd Saturday at Carson Park.
After Brian Sicher's sacrifice fly plating Tyler Hermann in the bottom of the eighth gave the Express a one-run lead, closer Eric Gleese was in a man-on-second and two outs situation when Waterloo's Robert Swenson laced a single to the opposite field to challenge Mavropolous, but he came up firing and threw out Steven Pallokov by 10 feet to end it. Pallokov didn't even slide it was such a good toss.
“I knew it was a do-or-die play, I knew I had to come in hard and come up throwing," Mavropolous said. "I’m not really known for having a great arm, but I found a way to get some extra miles-per-hour on that ball.”
Number 33's heroics saved a win for starting pitcher Jeremy Bagnall, who efficiently threw eight innings on just 83 pitches and allowed three ones, one earned, and just one. He was the winning pitcher in the contest, making him 1-0 on the year.
"Phenomenal," Field Manager Dale Varsho said of Bagnall's performance. "He kept them off balance all night, which is kind of what his reputation is.”
It didn't start out easy for him, as he gave up a run in the first on three hits. But for the next seven frames, he was brilliant.
The Montevallo product didn't blow hitters away, but he pitched to contact, something that was a part of the game plan all night.
“I’m not too scared of hitters," Bagnall said. "Just get strike one, and most of the time they’ll get themselves out. That’s kind of my approach I guess.”
Offensively, Eau Claire only mustered up three hits but made the most of its opportunites. The Express drew six walks and caused two errors.
One of those errors came on a scoring play, as Brady Burzynski, who had two of the three hits in the contest for the Express, attempting to advance to third from first on a groundball and caused a throw away, which allowed him to score the first run of the game for Eau Claire.
In the bottom of the seventh, Justin Jaquish had an RBI groundout to plate his UW-Milwaukee teammate, Mike Porcaro, and then Burzynski had an RBI infield single to score Sicher.
The Bucks got two runs in the top of the eighth, but Sicher's sacrifice fly gave him his second game-winning RBI in the young season.
They may not be exciting at-bats, but they get job done, and that's all that matters at the end of the day.
“It’s still early, and we’re not getting a lot of hits, but guys are drawing walks, and that’s huge,” Mavropolous said.
Eau Claire will go for the sweep of Waterloo tomorrow starting at 5:05 p.m. at Carson Park.