Eau Claire, Wis.— The Eau Claire Express used five one-run innings to defeat the La Crosse Loggers 5-2 at Copeland Park on Thursday night. Two triples and a home run highlighted the offense for the Express as Michael Gomez earned his first win of the season for six solid innings of work.
Alex McKenna started the game with a bang, hitting a solo home run in the top of the first inning to get the Express off to a hot start from the plate. McKenna’s second home run of the season cleared the wall in straight away center field to provide Eau Claire starter Michael Gomez with an early run of support.
Gomez would get some defensive support in the bottom half of the inning. Sam Hurt made an excellent play on a ground ball to turn a double play after Mason McCoy reached with a lead off walk. Gomez took matters into his own hands, striking out Cullen Large to end the inning.
McKenna would continue to carry the Express offense, driving in Ripken Reyes on a single to shallow left field. Reyes had reached first on an infield single, and was joined on the bases by Cody Bohanek who drew a walk. The walk extended Bohanek’s on base streak to 26 games, tied for the longest in the league this season. McKenna’s second RBI of the game gave Eau Claire an early 2-0 advantage after two and a half innings at Copeland Park.
Designated hitter Lorenzo Hampton Jr. broke up Gomez’s no-hit bid in the bottom of the third a single to the gap in right field. However, Hampton Jr. would not be on base for long, as Mang threw a laser to second base to catch Hampton Jr. trying to stretch his into into a double. Garrett Zech would hit a clean double in the next at bat, but Gomez calmly retired the final two batters to preserve the narrow Express lead.
Large cut the Express lead in half on the third pitch of the bottom of the fourth. The sophomore from North Chesterfield, Virginia hit a solo home run just over the glove of a leaping Mang in right-center. Large’s solo shot was his second home run against the Express this season, with just three total dingers in the 2016 campaign.
Zach Ashford would reclaim a two-run lead for Eau Claire in the top of the fifth. Reyes legged out a one-out triple on a fly ball that took a favorable bounce off the turf down the first base line, standing just 90 feet away from the plate with one swing of the bat. Ashford ripped a single back past Loggers’ starter Nick Raquet to score Reyes, giving the Express a 3-1 advantage halfway through the fifth.
The Express added one more run to stretch their lead to 4-1 in the top of the sixth. McKenna and Mang each had singles to start the inning, putting runners on the corner for catcher Daniel Herrera. Herrera placed a looping single just over the head of McCoy near the foul line in shallow left, which was deep enough to score the speedy McKenna from third.
Ryan Zimmerman would replace Gomez on the mound following the seventh inning stretch at Copeland Park. Gomez exited the game in line for his first victory of the year, allowing just one run on five hits and two walks.
It was Zimmerman’s first appearance as a member of the Express this summer, after joining the roster earlier this week. The right-hander from the University of St. Thomas allowed two base runners on an HBP and a single, but struck out two La Crosse batters to keep the Loggers off the scoreboard in the seventh inning.
The Loggers threatened to level the game in the bottom of the eighth, but settled for one run to slice the deficit to 4-2 heading to the final frame. The first three La Crosse hitters reached base in the inning, with an RBI single from Griffin Conine with no outs to score Large, who led off the eighth with a slap single of his own. Zimmerman expertly worked out of the jam with a strikeout and a double play to hold the Loggers to just one run in the penultimate inning.
The Express would counter with a run of their own in the top of the ninth on an RBI triple by Hurt. Hurt sliced an opposite field ball down the foul line, that bounced all the way to the corner to score Rudy Rott, who reached on a four pitch walk. The second triple of the game for Eau Claire gave the Express a 5-2 lead with Christian Tripp warming up to slam the door and earn a save.
Tripp got the job done in the bottom of the ninth, striking out all three batters he faced, and earning his team-high fifth save of the year. Gomez improved to 1-1 on the season with his first credited victory in six innings of work at Copeland Park.
McKenna led the Express at the plate with three hits in four at bats, totaling two RBI’s and two runs scored, highlighted by his second home run of the season back in the first inning. Reyes scored twice in the game, with two hits including his first triple of the summer.
Kenny Ogg will make his first start of the season against the La Crosse Loggers tomorrow night at Carson Park, with his first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Ogg has been excellent out of the bullpen for the Express this summer, with a 2-1 record, a 3.57 ERA, and 19 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched. Ogg will hope to limit the fireworks from the plate for the Loggers, leaving them to the pyrotechnics at Carson Park following Friday night’s North Division matchup.
The Eau Claire Express have won the Northwoods League North Division and have earned a trip to the playoffs for the first time since winning the Northwoods League Championship in 2010. They will host a playoff game at Carson Park on Monday August 15th 6:35pm. Group and individual game tickets are on sale now! Season tickets and single-game tickets for the regular season are also 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.