Zoellner’s big hit boosts Express to victory
Human nature has historically told us when people don't succeed right away, they seek redemption.
Tuesday, Eau Claire Express first baseman Jack Zoellner sought it out on a 1-0 pitch with runners on second and third in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After striking out in his previous three at bats, the New Mexico left hander pulled a slider from Thunder Bay Border Cats' pitcher Austin Griffie down the left field line to score Lane Milligan and Brian Mundell and give the Express the 5-3 lead, a score that wound up being the final at Carson Park.
“My first three at bats, I struggled," Zoellner said. “With people on base, I tend to be more aggressive and more confident in myself. And that’s what you saw tonight.”
Indeed, the 1,833 saw Zoellner put his first three plate appearances behind him to give the Express the game-winning hit.
But that's not all they saw.
The Express, as they've been doing lately, scored right away in the first inning as Drew Turbin knocked in Peter Van Gansen on an RBI fielder's choice.
Two innings later, Milligan, playing in his first home game since injuring his hand four weeks ago, scored Jeff Hendrix on a sacrifice fly.
Conner Rusch took over from there, going 5.1 innings in just his third start of the year while striking out three and inducing a healthy plethora of groundball outs.
“That’s his thing," Express Field Manager Dale Varsho said. "He’s been doing an exceptional job. In three starts, all he’s had is guys rolling over.”
The Express scored one in the sixth as Brady Burzynski scored on an error, but the Border Cats came back to tie it in the top of the seventh.
That's when Zoellner delivered the game's biggest blow. The Border Cats went right after him with a base open and one out.
"It was funny, it was a tie ball game, guy on third base and infield wasn’t in," Varsho said of Zoellner's game-winning hit. "So all he had to do was roll over and get the RBI, but he absolutely smoked the ball."
But in the top of the eighth, newcomer Travis Neubeck, who just arrived in Eau Claire and active just hours before the game, walked the first two guys of the inning. A wild pitch got them over to second and third with nobody out, but two straight strikeouts and an infield flyout got the Air Force turned Indian Hills Community College product out of the inning.
“Travis is a good find right now," Varsho said of Neubeck, who clocked in the low 90s Tuesday. "The nerves set in, but I think he’ll really help out on the road.”
Eric Gleese struck out the side in the top of the ninth to get his fifth save of the season. Orlando Meza earned the win in relief.
The Express are now 9-4 in the second half and remain on top in the North Division standings.
They've won three in a row against Thunder Bay to improve to 5-2 against the Border Cats this season.
"You've definitely got to win these ball games," Zoellner said. "It gives us a bit more confidence."
Eau Claire will look to gain more confidence Wednesday as they wrap up the season series with Thunder Bay. Mountain Man from the reality TV show "Duck Dynasty" will be the special guest at tomorrow's game. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m.