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Published On: July 14th, 2016


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Eau Claire, Wis.— In a battle of excellent pitching, the Eau Claire Express prevailed with a bases loaded walk off walk in the bottom of the ninth to complete the series sweep of the Border Cats. Kyle Marinconz tied the game with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh, and Mickey McDonald would earn the game winning RBI for his full count walk to clinch the 2-1 victory.


Austin Schulfer proved why he was selected to the North Division All-Star team in the first inning, recovering from an early single with two swinging strikeouts to strand Andy Weber on third base. Thunder Bay starter Joey Burris was similarly strong in the first, turning a double play to eliminate a threatening Zach Ashford who reached on a lead off single.


Schulfer continued his dominant night on the rubber by striking out the side in the top of the second. With three strikeouts in the second, Schulfer had fanned five consecutive batters before the streak was ended by a Jordan GIllerman bunt out.  


Burris pitched out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the second to keep the score level at 0-0 headed to the third. Rudy Rott lined a single to left, and was quickly joined on the bases by Austin Guzzo and Mickey McDonald with two outs. Burris tallied his second strikeout of the game, fanning Cody Bohanek on a wicked breaking ball to end the inning.


The Express looked poised to break the scoreless tie again in the bottom of the third, loading the bases in back-to-back innings. Ashford had his second single of the game in the lead off spot and Kyle Marinconz drew a walk to put two Eau Claire runners on. Burris struck out two Express batters, before issuing another walk to load the bases. For the second straight inning, Burris struck out the Express hitter to end the inning.


The pitcher’s duel continued through the fifth inning, with each pitcher baffling the opposing hitters with expert control, blistering speed, and impressive movement. Through five innings, Burris had allowed four hits and issued four walks while striking out six Eau Claire hitters. Schulfer allowed four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts, proving himself as one of the top pitchers in the league.


Thunder Bay broke the scoreless draw in the top of the sixth. Back-to-back no-out singles from Bobby Fulkerson and Jesse Lee put the Border Cats in a threatening position against Schulfer. A groundout by Weber put both runners in scoring position, and a walk issued to Michael Papierski loaded the bases. Despite recording his third spectacular diving catch in three games, Shane Shepard’s sacrifice fly scored Fulkerson to give the Border Cats a 1-0 lead. Schulfer’s 10th strikeout limited the damage to just one run in the inning.


Burris would pitch his final inning in the bottom of the sixth, continuing to shut out the Express. After allowing the first two Eau Claire batters to reach safely, Burris forced a double play and struck out McDonald to preserve the 1-0 lead.


Dylan Smith would relieve Schulfer on the mound in the top of the seventh. Schulfer completed six innings on the mound, leaving the game in position for the loss despite throwing a gem. The UW-Milwaukee product allowed only one run on six hits, but added 10 strikeouts to his season total (50), to put him in the top-three pitchers in the Northwoods League in that category. Smith retired the Border Cats in order with two strikeouts of his own.


The Border Cats’ reliever, Tom Mullin, did not fare as well in the bottom of the inning. Bohanek was hit by a pitch for a league-leading 16th time to give the Express a base runner with a chance to level the game. Marinconz got his first hit of the game on a single up the middle to score Bohanek, tying the game at one run apiece with just two frames remaining in the game.


The Express were in a position to retake the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Guzzo and Erick Migueles started the inning with two singles, each runner advancing into scoring position on a wild pitch from Mullin. Bohanek was beaned for the second time in the game, loading the bases for Ashford. Mullin rebounded with two swinging strikeouts and a ground out to preserve the tie heading to the ninth.


Smith completed his third shut out inning in the ninth to give the heart of the Eau Claire lineup a chance to walk off in the bottom of the inning. Smith gave up just one hit, fanning five batters in a vital role out of the bullpen.


In the final frame of regulation, all-star catcher Varsho ripped a lead off single to shallow right field. Varsho successfully stole second base, and scampered to third, standing just 90 feet away from winning the game after a slow roller back to Ben Hoffman (the Thunder Bay reliever) by McKenna. Hoffman walked Guzzo and Migueles to load the bases with two outs for McDonald. The University of Illinois-Chicago standout battled to a full count, and watched a pitch in the dirt for a walk off walk to score Varsho.


Smith was named player of the game for his three inning shut out, quieting the Thunder Bay bats and earning his second win of the year. Ashford and Varsho were the only Express hitters with multiple hits in the nail-biter, with Varsho’s run scored in the ninth sealing the victory at Carson Park.



The Express will travel to La Crosse, Wisconsin for just one game against the Loggers at Copeland Park. Michael Gomez will take the mound for Eau Claire, looking for his first win of the season in four starts. Gomez holds a 7.07 ERA in 14 innings pitched, striking out 10 opposing batters while allowing 18 hits. In his last start, Gomez pitched five innings against the Duluth Huskies, but earned a no-decision as the Express fell to Duluth in extra innings. Behind a strong pitching performance, the Express will seek to win their third straight game against a strong Loggers squad away from Carson Park.



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 or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store and set the Express as your favorite team.