Express beat Loggers 7-4 in return to Carson Park
Eau Claire, Wis.— The Eau Claire Express defeated the La Crosse Loggers 7-4 in their triumphant return to Carson Park after nine days on the road. In the all-around win, the Express tallied 14 hits, taking a lead in the bottom of the sixth inning that they would hold onto for the remainder of the North Division rivalry game.
The Loggers threatened Express starter Ryan Hamilton early, with a Mason McCoy lead off walk and a Lars Nootbaar single putting two on with no outs. Hamilton forced a 6-4-3 double play and a fly out to end the inning unharmed. The right-hander from Augustana continued by retiring the Loggers in order in the top half of the second.
Designated hitter Kyle Marinconz ended Nick Raquet’s no-hit bid with a single to shallow right-center in the bottom half of the inning. The hard-throwing lefty retired the next two batters to preserve the scoreless tie through two innings.
The Express scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the third, after a lead off walk to Mickey McDonald turned into a runner in scoring position, when McDonald successfully swiped second base. Loggers’ right fielder Griffin Conine lost a deep Ripken Reyes fly ball in the sun, allowing McDonald to score on the Reyes RBI double. Sam Hurt ripped a single down the third base line to drive in Reyes, giving the Express an early 2-0 lead after three in Eau Claire.
La Crosse wasted no time replying, tying the game on two RBI singles in the top of the fourth. Nootbaar and Cullen Large started off the inning with back-to-back singles, advancing into scoring position on a Conine pop fly. Salazar picked up his sixth RBI of the summer on a slicing line drive down to Zach Ashford in left to score Nootbaar. Kyle Plantier leveled the game at 2-2 with a one-run single of his own with two outs to send Large home.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Alex McKenna teed off of Raquet with a solo home run just clearing the wall in straight away center field. McKenna’s dinger made it two consecutive days with a home run after last night’s inside-the-park homer at Copeland Park. The Cal Poly outfielder is second on the Express with six home runs this season. Eau Claire would add another run on a Cody Bohanek RBI single, scoring Marinconz who reached on his second two out single of the game to give the Express a 4-2 lead after five innings of play.
The Loggers would not go down without a fight, re-tying the game in the top of the sixth fueled by a few costly Express errors. Conine drew a walk to start the inning, eventually rounding the bases on a Lorenzo Hampton Jr. RBI single. Hampton Jr. would score the tying run when Daulton Varsho attempted to throw him out stealing third base. The throw sailed into the outfield, allowing the Loggers’ outfielder to cross the plate to level the score at 4-4.
Reyes was key in taking the lead yet again in the bottom of the sixth for Eau Claire, reaching on a walk in the lead off spot. Reyes scampered home on a Daulton Varsho double to right field, scoring on a throwing error by Conine at second base. The Loggers limited the damage to just one run, with Eau Claire carrying a 5-4 lead to the seventh inning.
Reagan MacDonald replaced Hamilton on the rubber in the top of the seventh, striking out the first batter he faced looking on a blistering fastball. Hamilton left the game in line for the win, completing six innings with four runs allowed (three earned) on seven hits, while striking out five opposing batters. MacDonald would retire the three La Crosse batters he faced in order, ending the inning on a swinging strikeout of Nootbaar.
The Express rallied with two outs against reliever Cason Sherrod in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases after a double by Bohanek, and walks by McDonald and Reyes. Sherrod squashed the chance to add insurance runs by fanning Ashford swinging, holding the Loggers within one run with two chances to level the score.
MacDonald had another efficient inning in the top of the eighth, forcing three pop ups on eight pitches to preserved the narrow lead.
The Express would get their insurance runs? in the bottom of the eighth, taking a 7-4 advantage into the final frame. Hurt hit a lead off single into shallow left field, and was joined on the bases by Varsho who drew a full count walk. Both runners advanced on an Andrew Perez wild pitch, and on ball four during McKenna’s at bat, Hurt would cross the plate to double Eau Claire’s lead. Reliever Dave Smith inherited a bases loaded situation after a single by Marinconz. Jared Mang got his first RBI on a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Varsho.
Christian Tripp entered the game for the second straight night, looking to hold the newly extended three-run lead in the top of the ninth. Tripp did not allow a hit, earning his sixth save of the season while lowering his ERA to an impressive 2.70 in the closer role for the Express.
Eight runners got hits for the Express, but none bigger than McKenna’s solo shot to center field in the bottom of the fifth. Marinconz and Hurt each tallied three hits, with Hurt driving in his 22nd run of the season. Hamilton improved to 4-4 on the season with the six-inning win.
The Express have a day off tomorrow night, taking a needed rest day to prepare for the final stretch of the second half. Eau Claire will play 13 of their final 19 games at Carson Park, hoping to use the home field to their advantage and clinch the second half title for their trophy case alongside the first half championship.
Following the day off, the Express will take on the Stingers in Willmar for a two-game series, before returning home for a series against the Mankato MoonDogs. Jameson Lavery will make his first start for the Express on Tuesday, returning to Eau Claire after four appearances out of the bullpen with the team at the beginning of June. Lavery, a UW-La Crosse product, was 0-0 with a 2.00 ERA in nine innings pitched in his brief stint earlier in the summer.
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.