Eau Claire, Wis.— Express starter Jon Roblez pitched seven innings without allowing a hit, but a late rally from the Rox produced eight runs to tie the game in the ninth. Ashford had the game-winning two-run single in the 10th inning to extend Eau Claire’s winning streak to six, defeating the Rox 11-8 in extra innings.
Fresh off of clinching a playoff bid as North Division first half champions, the Express took the field against the team they did battle with to earn the hard-fought postseason spot. The St. Cloud Rox forced a must-win game for the Express last night after a nearly three-hour rain delay, who took care of business against the Loggers to win the division by a half game.
The Express proved why they were the top team in the first half of the season with two runs in the first inning. Ben Mezzenga drew a walk to lead off the game, and Zach Ashford joined the University of Minnesota freshman on the base paths the following at bat with a single to shallow left. Mezzenga scored the first run of the game on a throwing error that put Kyle Marinconz on first. Ashford tagged up and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Jared Mang.
Carlos Graffeo held the Express without a hit for the next four innings, allowing just one base runner on a walk to Ripken Reyes. The right-hander retired 13 consecutive batters after allowing two early runs to give his offense a shot to avenge the first half defeat at the hands of the Express.
Jon Roblez was dominant in his first start of the summer for the Express. The junior from Alabama State held a no-hitter for Eau Claire through seven innings.Roblez struck out four batters and walked four opposing hitters in seven innings of work, blanking one of the top offenses in the league.
The Rox threatened to score in the seventh inning, when Roblez walked Webb Bobo and Mark Skonieczny to lead off the inning, but got two flyouts and a strikeout to end another hitless inning.
Mang got his second RBI of the game on Eau Claire’s first hit since of the game since the first inning. Mang blasted a deep shot to left field, smashing his third home run of the season off a light post at Joe Faber Field. The right fielder from Los Alamos, New Mexico tallied his ninth RBI of the season on just eight hits, carrying over his impressive power at the plate from his spring at the University of New Mexico.
The Express loaded the bases in the top of the seventh inning with no outs, on a walk, a Michael Hicks single, and a Sam Hurt bunt single. Hicks scored on a bloop single to shallow center field, extending the Express lead to 4-0. Ashford hit the second sacrifice fly of the game and Kyle Marinconz laced a double to score two Express base runners, giving the first half champions a 7-0 advantage. Marinconz would score on a throwing error to the Rox first baseman to cap the six-run inning.
Roblez would be replaced by Dylan Smith in the eighth inning, ending his bid for a no-hitter. Roblez threw 107 pitches in his seven inning outing, the best start of the season for a member of the Express pitching staff.
The no-hitter would end for the Express in the bottom of the eighth inning. Marcus Carson hit a shallow pop up into left field that dropped between three Express fielders to break up a combined staff no-hitter by Eau Claire. Carson scored after Smith walked three straight batters, cutting the lead to 8-1 after eight innings. Brendan Illies drew the fourth consecutive walk, scoring another run for the Rox.
Smith hit the first two batters he faced and the Rox loaded the bases with a Brandon Benson single. Ben DeLuzio, a pinch runner who entered the game in the inning, scampered home on a single by Drew Freedman. The Rox added a second run in the inning on a Bobo sacrifice fly.
Christian Tripp came in to the game to record the final out, but a throwing error by Reyes allowed a run to score, putting the tying run on first base with two outs. Tripp issued a bases loaded walk to Ben Petersen, allowing Freedman to score. A Tripp wild-pitch put the Rox within just one run after the Express held an 8-0 lead after seven innings, and a DeLuzio single scored pinch runner Mason Mammarella to level the score at 8-8.
The Express loaded the bases in the top of the 10th inning with no outs. Sam Hurt hit a lead off double, Reyes was hit by a pitch, and Mezzenga hit an infield single off reliever Robbie Palkert. Ashford lined a clutch single to left-center field, scoring two runs to retake a 10-8 lead in extras. Daniel Herrera hit a shallow single near the third base bag to score Ashford to pad the Express lead.
Tripp returned for the bottom of the 10th, retiring three Rox batters without allowing a run to score. The right-hander from the University of New Mexico earned his first win of the season to go along with his four saves as the primary closer for Dale Varsho.
Eight Express batters had at least one hit in the game, with Mang and Marinconz each tallying two RBI’s.. Mezzenga had two hits, drew two walks, scored two runs, and had an RBI in an all-around strong performance. Ashford had the game-winning two-run single in the 10th inning, his second hit of the game for three total RBI’s.
The Express will take on the Rox in the second game of the series at Faber Field at 7:05 p.m. Caleb Boushley will take the mound for Eau Claire, looking for a league-leading fifth win. Boushley won Pitcher of the Night honors in his last start, allowing just one earned run in seven innings pitched, striking out seven batters to lower his ERA to 2.03 in five starts. The Division III All-American hopes to continue Eau Claire’s win streak and replicate Roblez’s performance on the mound tonight in tomorrow evening’s start.
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.