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Five home runs sink Express in narrow 10-9 loss

 

Box Score

 

Eau Claire, Wis.— The Mankato MoonDogs hit five home runs to defeat the Express by a narrow 10-9 margin in the final game before the three day All-Star Break. Alex McKenna (2-4, 4 RBI’s) and Zach Ashford (4-6, 2 runs scored) propelled an Eau Claire offense that rivaled the power attack of the MoonDogs, but a late home run sealed the victory for the always dangerous Mankato squad.

 

The two top batters (by batting average) for Eau Claire reached safely in the first inning. Outfielders Ben Mezzenga and Zach Ashford led off the final game before the three-day All-Star Break with back-to-back singles. Mezzenga tagged up and scored the first run of the game on an Alex McKenna sacrifice fly, giving the Express an early 1-0 advantage after the first half inning of play.

 

The Express threatened to add to their early lead, with two runners in scoring position and nobody out in the top of the second. Rudy Rott made it to third after a single when Daniel Herrera blasted a double to the fence in center field. Rott would cross the plate on a fielder’s choice by Mickey McDonald, which advanced all runners safely. Sam Hurt added an RBI single to drive home Herrera, scoring a second run with no outs. A sacrifice fly off the bat of Mezzenga scored the third run of the inning, and Ashford’s second single of the game forced the MoonDogs to go to their bullpen, replacing starter Jeremy Quinlan with Robby Evans, attempting to retire the final two outs of the second.

 

With two-outs, McKenna got two more RBI’s on a bases clearing triple to the warning track in the deepest part of “the Frank” in Mankato. The five-run inning put the Express in a position to cruise into the three-day break, leading 6-0 after 1.5 innings against their North Division competitors.

 

Jake Shepski proved why he was selected to compete in tomorrow night’s Home Run Derby in Kenosha, blasting a solo shot in the lead off spot. The long bomb put Shepski in a tie with Daulton Varsho atop the Northwoods League with nine home runs of the season.

 

In the next at bat, Chase Hamilton made it back-to-back solo shots, hitting a laser just over the fence in right-center. Unbelievably, Marcus Pingleton made it three straight home runs, lining his sixth dinger of the season off of Ryan Hamilton to cut the Express lead in half with three swings of the bat. The in-game home run derby ended with a Hamilton strikeout and an excellent bare-handed put out.

 

The inning, however, was far from over. The MoonDogs would add a fourth and fifth run on RBI singles from Jordan Washam and David Metzgar, narrowing the Eau Claire lead to 6-5. Shepski, the top hitter in the Northwoods League, returned for his second bat in the frame, ripping the game-tying single into shallow right field to cap off the six run inning.

 

Due to the Northwoods League pitching guidelines, Hamilton was relieved by University of St. Thomas right-hander, Ryan Zimmerman in the top of the third.

 

Zimmerman’s second appearance of the season began with two nice outs, but the MoonDogs quickly loaded the bases in their second two-out rally of the first third of the game. Alvaro Rubalcaba drew a five pitch walk to score Chase Hamilton, who reached on a lead off walk himself. A fly out in foul territory limited the damage to just one run, but gave the MoonDogs the go-ahead run to protect a 7-6 score line for the remainder of the contest.

 

The lead did not last long, with the Express tying the game in the top of the fourth. Ashford led off the game with his third single in three plate appearances, and was quickly joined by Kyle Marinconz on an identical hit up the middle past Evans on the mound. McKenna tallied his fourth RBI of the game on a single to shallow right, scoring Ashford to level the score at seven.

 

Zimmerman rebounded with a strong bottom of the fourth, recording a scoreless inning with one strikeout on a wicked breaking ball.

 

The MoonDogs would break the tie in the bottom of the sixth with their fourth home run of the contest. Shepski lined a one-out single off the first base bag to put a runner on base for the powerful bat of Hamilton, who hit a moon shot over the scoreboard in right field, his second dinger of the game. Shepski and Hamilton accounted for four runs in the first six innings, proving to be constant threats to the well-being of the baseball with three home runs combined.

 

The Express re-tied the game again at 9-9 in the top of the seventh, sparked by a lead off double off the outfield wall by Rott. Dalton Lehnen issued a walk to Herrera, the last batter he faced before Brian Gadsby replaced him on the rubber. A McDonald sacrifice bunt moved Herrera and Rott into scoring position, and an RBI ground out by Hurt sliced the deficit to one run. Mezzenga leveled the score with his second RBI on a two-out single, driving Herrera in for his second run scored of the high-scoring affair.

 

The tie game lasted just one out, as Alex Tucker teed off on the second pitch he saw from reliever Sean Maher, who was making his debut for the Express in the bottom of the seventh. Maher rebounded by retiring the next three Mankato batters, including a swinging strikeout of Jake Roberts. Maher would add another strike in the bottom of the ninth, keeping the Express just one run down in the final inning.

 

Kevin Yarabinec, one of the most reliable closers in the North Division, stepped onto the mound for Mankato looking to slam the door to tally a win on the final game before the All-Star Break. Hurt and Mezzenga hit a pair of singles with one out, threatening to tie the game yet again. A fielder’s choice advanced Hurt to third, but Yarabinec forced a pop fly to seal the 10-9 win.

 

The Express did their best to counter the potent offensive attack of the MoonDogs, but their efforts fell just short. Ashford finished the game an impressive 4-6 with two runs scored, and McKenna led the team with four RBI’s in the narrow defeat.

 

The Express will send five players to Kenosha, Wisconsin tomorrow for the Northwoods League All-Star Break festivities. Varsho will compete in tomorrow night’s Northwoods League Home Run Derby, hoping to show why he sits atop the league in dingers. On Tuesday night, Dale Varsho, Daulton’s uncle, will lead Daulton and the rest of the North Division All-Star Team. Caleb Boushley, Dalton Roach, and Austin Schulfer will all be a part of the North’s pitching staff, while Mezzenga will join Daulton Varsho in the field.

 

 

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.