Eau Claire, Wis.— The Express won 5-3 over the Waterloo Bucks in a thrilling fashion to keep their first half playoff hopes alive. Sam Hurt produced with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, clearing the bases with a game-winning triple. The Express now sit 1.5 games (with a 22-11 record) out of first place with three games remaining in the first half of the season.
Brody Rodning, the starter for the Express, walked the lead off hitter in the top of the first, but struck out two batters and was assisted when Daulton Varsho threw out Taylor Boy attempting to steal second base to end the inning.
Cody Bohanek lined a lead off single in the Express half of the first, advancing to third safely on an infield single by Mickey McDonald to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Bohanek crossed the plate on a groundout from Daulton Varsho, earning the catcher his 30th RBI of the season.
Adam McGinnis rocketed a double to the gap in left-center, giving the fans at Carson Park a clear explanation as to to why he has been one of the top power hitters in the Northwoods League this season. Lane Milligan showed that baseball is not all about the big bats, laying a perfect bunt single down the third base line to put runners on the corner for the Bucks. Waterloo drove in its first run of the game on a single over the leaping Bohanek, allowing McGinnis to touch home plate safely. Rodning stranded two base runners with a strikeout and a ground out to get out of the second inning with a 1-1 score. The left-hander from Minnesota State Mankato struck out another two batters in the third to preserve the tie.
Andrew Muehlberger took over on the rubber for starter Bryce Reichmann after just three innings. The junior from Central Missouri notched one strikeout and forced a double play to keep the game locked in a 1-1 tie after four innings. The Bucks turned their third inning ending double play of the game in the fifth inning.
The Bucks took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth. Zach Weatherford reached first on a single up the middle to shallow center field, then stole second and made it to third on a wild pitch. On just the next pitch, Weatherford scampered home on the second wild pitch of the at bat. Muehlberger completed his third scoreless inning in the bottom of the sixth to keep the one-run lead in tact.
Waterloo threatened to stretch its lead again in the top of the seventh, putting two runners in scoring position on two consecutive walks and a sacrifice bunt. However, Express reliever Jake Sommers was able to turn two ground outs to end the inning unharmed.
The Express scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh to retake the lead late in the game. Kyle Marinconz hit a lead off single, Austin Guzzo drew a walk, and Jared Mang reached on an error to load the bases with no outs. Sam Hurt ripped a bases clearing triple, scoring three runs in the inning. Hurt was a perfect 4-4 in last night’s contest, and continued his hot streak with a gapper to left center in a clutch moment. Hurt scored on a sacrifice fly by Ripken Reyes to put the Express ahead 5-2.
Weatherford pulled one run back on the second pitch he saw against Dylan Smith, ripping a solo home run over the fence in left field. The solo shot was Weatherford’s first home run of the season.
Christian Tripp came in for his third save opportunity of the year, slamming the door with a 1-2-3 inning and a strikeout to seal the 5-3 win. Jake Sommers earned his second win of the season, while Nate Spielvogel (who allowed four runs in the seventh) was given the loss.
Sam Hurt was the hero for the Express, going 2-3 with the game-winning three-run triple in the seventh inning. Hurt has tallied 11 RBI’s this summer, but none have been more important as tonight’s to win against a North Division rival. Marinconz was also impressive at the plate, finishing 2-4 in the contest with one run scored.
The Express will play Waterloo in a rematch of tonight’s game at 5:05 p.m. tomorrow evening. Both teams sit in the top of the North Division, so each game is key to playoff hopes for both Waterloo and Eau Claire. Ryan Hamilton will start for Eau Claire, hoping to rebound after his loss against Green Bay last week. Hamilton has a 2-3 record in five starts, with 14 strikeouts and a 5.53 ERA. The St. Cloud Rox won 4-0 tonight over the Madison Mallards, meaning the Express still sit one and half games behind the Rox for the Division lead with three games remaining in the first half of the season.
Season tickets and single-game tickets are on sale now for Express home games. All tickets can be purchased by calling the Express office at 715-839-7788 or by stopping at the downtown office at 102 E. Grand Ave.
The Eau Claire Express are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 23rd season of summer collegiate baseball, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 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 150 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.eauclaireexpress.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store and set the Express as your favorite team.