Eau Claire, Wis.— The Express beat the La Crosse Loggers convincingly, 8-2, to end their weeklong road trip on a high note. Daulton Varsho had an excellent game from the plate, tallying five RBI’s on three hits including a three-run home run to provide the Express with key insurance runs late in the game.
The speedy Ben Mezzenga reached in the lead off spot, drawing a walk and stealing a base to get into scoring position with two outs. Clean up hitter Alex McKenna combined speed and power with a deep drive off the fence at Copeland Park, which he legged into an incredible inside-the-park home run. McKenna’s fifth home run did not leave the field, but was deep enough to give the Express a 2-0 lead early in the opening game of the series with the La Crosse Loggers.
Express starter Jon Roblez progressed through the first three innings unharmed by the dangerous Loggers batters. Roblez allowed three hits in the first third of the North Division matchup, including back-to-back singles in the bottom of the third to put two runners into scoring position. However, the starter from Alabama State forced a ground ball to record the final out of the inning, ending the La Crosse scoring threat.
In his first start of the season, Randy Labaut recovered quickly from the home run, with three scoreless innings without allowing Eau Claire to reach base. After issuing a walk to Jared Mang in the first inning, Labaut retired the next ten batters he faced, fanning four Express batters. Roblez stranded yet another two-out base runner in the bottom of the fourth to preserve Eau Claire’s 2-0 lead.
Shortstop Cody Bohanek broke up Labaut’s streak with a ringing double to the gap in the lead off position in the top of the fifth. A wild pitch to Sam Hurt put Bohanek just 90 feet away from making it a three-run game in favor of the Express. Hurt got the job done with a sacrifice fly to Griffin Conine in right field. Bohanek proved his versatility, making a spectacular diving grab to tally the third and final out in the bottom of the fifth, sealing the 1-2-3 inning.
Labaut would be yanked from the game in the top of the sixth, after allowing a one-out single to two-time All Star, Daulton Varsho. Jack Ralston struck out the two Express batters he faced, to keep the game within reach for La Crosse. Ralston continued a strong relief performance with two strikeouts and a groundout to end a scoreless top of the seventh.
Roblez completed his shut out through six innings, striking out Justin Wylie to end his final inning of work on the mound. Cesar Salazar jumped on Roblez’s replacement, Jake Sommers, with a lead off single to left field to start the bottom half of the seventh. Salazar advanced to second on a passed ball, and third after tagging up on a Lorenzo Hampton Jr fly ball. Sommers rebounded by forcing two ground ball put outs without allowing Salazar to score, keeping a 3-0 score line after seven.
Ripken Reyes’s stand up double to start the eighth inning forced another La Crosse pitching change, as manager Brian Lewis replaced Ralston with Joe DiBenedetto for the remainder of the inning. Mezzenga joined Reyes on the bases with a walk issued by DiBenedetto. Varsho crushed a double to deep right field to score both runners, adding to his top-five RBI total this season. Varsho’s 38th and 39th RBI’s of the season extended the Express lead to 5-0 after 7.5 at Copeland Park.
The Loggers would get a two-run double of their own in the bottom of the eighth off of Sommers to cut the Eau Claire lead to just 5-2 with one frame left. La Crosse had two runners on base with no outs for Grant Fennell after a single and a walk to start the half inning. Fennell ripped a double to the gap in right field, clearing the bases to break the shut out. Sean Maher would replace Sommers on the hill with one out and a runner on first base. Maher turned a Wylie pop up and struck out Salazar swinging to end the inning.
Varsho hit his league-leading 10th home run of the season in the top of the ninth off of Zach Kesterson to stretch Eau Claire’s lead to 8-2. Varsho’s three-run blast scored Reyes and McDonald who each reached base via walks. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee sophomore had not hit a dinger in 27 days after jumping out to a huge lead in the Northwoods League with nine home runs in a month. Varsho is the lone player in the NWL to have double-digit home runs, breaking out of a three-way tie atop the category.
Chrisitan Tripp entered the game in the bottom of the ninth, quickly sealing the six-run victory with two fly outs and a swinging strikeout to end the contest. Roblez improved to 2-0 with the win with Labaut credited with the loss. Varsho went 5-3 with five RBI’s on a home run and a double. Mckenna added a home run of his own, an inside-the-park homer, in the first.
Ryan Hamilton will make his ninth start of the summer tomorrow night in Eau Claire’s first game in over a week. Hamilton will face these Loggers at Carson Park, looking to even his overall record at 4-4 with a win. The right-hander from Augustana has pitched 41 innings this season, striking out 22 opposing hitters while totaling a 5.26 ERA. Hamilton, a native of Spearfish, SD, has been a key member of a strong Express rotation this season and will look to rebound from a two-inning start in his last appearance with a dominant outing tomorrow.
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.