Big boppers, fast start lead Express past MoonDogs
Many times this season, the Eau Claire Express have had to play from behind as the first inning hasn't been terribly kind to them.
Saturday, it looked as if a similar fate my await after starter Jeremy Bagnall was facing a bases-loaded jam with one out. But two straight strikeouts and a two-out, four-run rally in the bottom of the inning turned the tides for the orange and black, leading to a 9-2 victory over the first-place Mankato MoonDogs in front of 1,610 people at Carson Park.
"That was huge for us," Field Manager Dale Varsho said. "We needed that big time, try and get us out of the funk and not play behind all the time.”
On the offensive thing, it was a huge hit from catcher Brian Mundell that got the scoring started. After two quick outs, Daniel Salters and Tyler Hermann singled while Drew Turbin reached on error. Mundell stepped the plate and launched a shot to center field.
Mankato centerfielder Tyler Sullivan reached up to grab it but banged into the wall, and the ball found a seam underneath it to go out of play. That wasn't before Mundell was on his way to third and the rest of the runners scored.
Brent Gibbs then continued his hot hitting by knocking in Mundell with an RBI single up the middle.
“If you ask any baseball player, they’ll tell you the team that scores first has the most momentum out of anybody," Mundell said. “It’s really big because you put the other team behind, but you put it in their heads.”
The Express offense was nowhere near done.
Mankato put up a run in the third, but Mundell and Eau Claire responded as the Cal Poly catcher knocked in Turbin with an RBI single to make 5-1.
In the next inning, Mundell took a walk with the bases loaded to make it 6-1 and give him five RBI in the first four innings.
“I was just not thinking, pretty much, just clearing my head and seeing the ball in the zone and exploding on it," Mundell said on his approach to the plate.
Peter Van Gansen, who now has 11 hits in the last four games, good enough to give him the temporary nod at the leadoff spot, knocked in Mike Barajas on a single in the next inning, and it was 7-1 just like that.
In the bottom of the seventh, Salters doubled in Barajas on a hard-hit ball down the line. A batter later, Hermann drove in Van Gansen on a bloop single to center.
The 3-4-5-6 guys in the lineup for Eau Claire (Salters, Hermann, Turbin and Mundell), better known as the meat of the order, went a combined 8-for-17 with seven RBI and six runs.
“We need our big guys to really put up some numbers," Varsho said. "If they don’t hit, we’re in trouble.”
Bagnall enduced two double play balls to pitch himself out of trouble all night. He earned his club-leading third win of the summer by going six innings while giving one one run and striking out two. He scattered eight hits and four walks.
“He got himself out of trouble with some double plays," Varsho said. "It’s tough to him because his changeup is as good as his fastball.”
With the offense turning around, Mundell said he feels something coming in the team, maybe even a little streak before the All-Star break.
“I think the team’s really starting to click together now, and we’re going to make a run at this thing,” he said.
The Express will look to make those first strides starting with a two-game series at home against Alexandria Sunday and Monday before hitting the road for six straight. It's Community Safety Night sponsored by Firehouse Subs tomorrow with a first pitch at 5:05 p.m.