Eau Claire, Wis.— The Express held a slim lead through the final two innings of Wednesday night’s 5-4 victory over the Willmar Stingers. Caleb Boushley overcame early trouble with a lights out pitching performance, earning his team-leading sixth win of the season. Christian Tripp slammed the door with three strikeouts in the bottom of the ninth to tally his seventh save of the summer.
The Stingers picked up where they left off last night, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the first inning. Greg Lambert reached on a fielder’s choice after a Quincy McAfee single, and was joined on the bases by Justin Toerner, who legged out a groundball infield single. Danny Mayer rocketed a two-run double off the fence in left-center field, clearing the bases with two-outs. Express starter Caleb Boushley struck out Eddie Estrada to end the inning.
Boushley, the starting pitcher in last Tuesday’s Northwoods League All-Star Game, rebounded with a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the second.
Fueled by the scoreless frame, the Express quickly put pressure on Willmar starter Corey Herndon, loading the bases with nobody out. Daulton Varsho’s sacrifice fly to the gap in left center drove in Sam Hurt who reached on a lead off single. Alex McKenna drew the third walk of the inning to reload the bases, but the Stingers turned a double play to hold their 2-1 lead after two completed innings at Bill Taunton Stadium.
Rudy Rott and Michael Hicks started the fourth inning with promising back-to-back singles, but Herndon quickly retired the side without allowing either runner to move into a threatening position. Boushley responded yet again, retiring the Stingers in order in the bottom half of the inning.
Zach Ashford scored the tying run in the top of the fifth inning. The Express left fielder hit a single and reached second on a throwing error in the lead off spot. Ashford advanced to third on a Varsho fly out and scored on an Alex McKenna RBI single through a gap in the left side of the infield. Marinconz singled to shallow left field, and Mickey McDonald drew a walk to load the bases for Rott, who watched ball four sail high to score the go-ahead run and force a Stingers’ pitching change. Joe Vranesic struck out the first batter he faced, and was bailed out by a spectacular running catch at the foul line in right field by Toerner to hold the 3-2 score line.
Mayer would drive in his third run of the game, accounting for all of Willmar’s runs in the game, to level the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth. Lambert was called safe at first base on an infield single into the gap between McDonald and Hurt. Mayer ripped a single to straight away center, with the speedy Lambert wheeling around third to knot the score entering the final third of the game.
The Express would waste no time retaking the lead, taking control of a 5-3 advantage in the top of the seventh. Marinconz and McDonald continued the narrative with back-to-back lead off walks. Rott executed the sacrifice bunt to perfection, moving each runner into scoring position. Marinconz slid into home safely on a Vranesic wild pitch to score the go-ahead run. Hicks picked up his second hit of the game, driving McDonald in with an RBI double.
The Express threatened to extend their two-run lead in the top of the eighth, but Anthony Garza retired three straight batters with the bases loaded to get out of the inning unharmed.
Dylan Smith, the side-armer from Weatherford College, replaced Boushley on the mound for the Express in the eighth. The Stingers loaded the bases without a hit, Smith issuing two walks and forcing a fly ball that turned into an error. Luke Becker hit a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Toerner to cut the Express lead to just one run. Smith induced a ground out to end the inning.
Christian Tripp entered the game with the game hanging in the balance, three outs away from earning a key win in the North Division contest. Tripp walked one batter in the inning, but recorded three strikeouts to hold the narrow one-run victory. It was Tripp’s seventh save this season in seven opportunities.
Boushley earned his team-leading sixth win in the seven-inning start, allowing three earned runs on eight hits and two walks. McKenna and Hicks each had two hits and one RBI in the win, with Hicks’s seventh inning double serving as the game-winning run in the game. Seven Express players drew a walk in the game, with McDonald, Rott, and Marinconz all watching ball four twice.
The Express will return home tomorrow night, with a 6:35 p.m. matchup against the Mankato MoonDogs at Carson Park. Reagan MacDonald will make his first start of the season following two appearances out of the bullpen for Eau Claire. MacDonald has not allowed a run in 2.2 innings of work, not even giving up a hit to opposing batters in his two brief appearances. The 6’8” left-hander has three strikeouts in just eight batters faced, and will hope his strong season will continue during his transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation.
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.