Eau Claire, Wis.— The Rox rallied late in Friday night’s North Division contest, sweeping the Express in the three game series at Joe Faber Field. Despite Brody Rodning’s six scoreless innings for Eau Claire, the Rox sealed the 4-1 victory with a three-run eighth inning to take control of first place overall in the Northwoods League.
Rox starter Shelby Lackey pitched out of an early bases loaded jam to keep Eau Claire off the scoreboard in the top of the first. Zach Ashford and Daulton Varsho each drew a walk and were joined on the bases by Kyle Marinconz who got the first hit of the game on a line drive single.
Brody Rodning matched Lackey through the first inning, forcing a two-out groundout with a runner on third base to pitch out of a threatening situation early in the game.
Lackey and Rodning remained locked in a pitcher’s duel throughout the first four innings of play in St. Cloud. Each pitcher held the opposing team scoreless in four frames, with the score knotted at zeroes. Rodning was dialed into the strike zone, allowing only two hits in four complete innings with two strikeouts on his impressive breaking ball. Lackey posted the same stat line in the same time frame, allowing just two hits himself, but with two walks to his name in the 15 batters he faced in the final game of the two-day series.
The Express struck first, scoring one run in the top of the fifth to seize control of the lead in the matchup of two of the league’s top squads. Mickey McDonald wheeled to second on a looping double, and eventually scored on a one-run single off the bat of North Division All-Star, Ben Mezzenga. First baseman Luke Ringhofer made a great read on an Ashford fielder’s choice to throw out the lead runner Cody Bohanek at the plate. Lackey induced another ground ball to hold the Express to just one run in the inning, leaving two men on base.
The Rox threatened to retake the lead in the bottom of the fifth, with the bases loaded against Rodning. A walk, a hit-by-pitch, and a single by Bhret Bewley put ducks on the pond for St. Cloud’s top hitter, Ricky Ramirez. Rodning located his slider in the zone, forcing a pop fly to preserve the shut out.
Varsho threw out a stealing Rox runner to end the sixth inning, preserving Rodning’s shut out start on the mound. The sixth would be Rodning’s final inning due to Northwoods League pitching guidelines, with the Minnesota State left-hander throwing six scoreless innings against one of the most potent offenses in the league. Rodning gave up just four hits, walking two Rox batters in a dominant start for Eau Claire.
The Rox jumped on Express reliever Dylan Smith early, loading the bases with a chance to level the game in the bottom of the seventh. Brandon Benson led off the inning with a fly ball double to deep center field, crossing the plate on a fielder’s choice to re-tie the score at 1-1 with just two innings left between the top offensive team (Eau Claire) and pitching team (St. Cloud) in the Northwoods League.
St. Cloud took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning without recording a single hit. In his Express debut, Joe Gonrowski struggled with his control issuing three walks that resulted in a bases loaded walk to give the Rox the go-ahead run in the tight North Division matchup. The Rox widened their gap to 4-1 after a throwing error allowed two runs to score.
Collin Strall entered the game for the top of the ninth, looking to lower his impressive 0.92 ERA. Strall forced two pop ups and a strikeout to earn his eighth save of the year, handing the Express their third straight loss at the hands of St. Cloud.
Jon Roblez will get the call against the La Crosse Loggers tomorrow night at 6:05 p.m. to kick start the home-and-home series against the in-state rivals. Roblez will make his third start of the season (plus three appearances out of the bullpen) on Saturday at Copeland Park, looking to get his second win to continue his unbeaten 1-0 record this season. Roblez’s best start came on July 6th against these same St. Cloud Rox, when he pitched a seven-inning no-hitter in the extra-innings win at “The Rock Pile”. Roblez won his last start against Thunder Bay, pitching 6.1 innings while allowing just two earned runs.
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.