Late run proves to be the difference in 2-1 loss to Honkers
Eau Claire, Wis.— A seventh-inning run for the Rochester Honkers sealed a 2-1 Express loss at Mayo Field. Michael Gomez had a strong start, with six innings pitched and only one earned run, but a Joey Czarske infield single gave the Honkers a 2-1 lead that Stevie Ledesma would preserve in a two-inning save. The Express will take on the top team in the South Division, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters, in a day-night doubleheader tomorrow.
Erik Cha, starting pitcher for the Honkers, issued a lead off walk to Zach Ashford in the first at bat of the game, but forced a ground ball double play to eliminate the early threat. Michael Gomez, who took the mound for the Express, allowing the Honkers to take a 1-0 lead in the first. Singles from Kyle Kasser and Jackson Thoreson and a hit batter loaded the bases for Casey Worden, who took a pitch off his back, walking home a run on an RBI hit-by-pitch.
Cha and Gomez remained in a heated pitching battle through the completion of the fifth inning, the score line remaining at 1-0. Cha allowed just one hit through five at May Field, aided by a key double play to pitch out of a jam. Gomez gave up six hits, but limited the Rochester to just the one run in the first inning.
The Express got to Cha in the top of the sixth, tying the game at one run apiece just past the halfway point in the back half of the home-and-home series. Sam Hurt laced a single to center field to kick start the inning, and was moved into scoring position on a deep one-out double by Alex McKenna. Kyle Marinconz would drive in the first run of the game for the top producing offense in the Northwoods League, hitting a sharp ground ball that was enough to allow Hurt to scamper home.
Alex Fitchett attempted to spark a rally in the bottom half of the sixth, but the Express defense turned a double play to complete Gomez’s outing, earning a no-decision in the game. Joe Gonrowski made his second appearance out of the bullpen for the Express in the seventh inning. Miles Lewis lined a 1-1 pitch to the outfield for a lead off single, and slid into second base on a sacrifice bunt from Kasser. Joey Czarske gave Rochester a 2-1 lead with an infield single to score Lewis from third.
Daulton Varsho ripped a two-out single to shallow left field against reliever Stevie Ledesma, moving into scoring position with his team-leading 23rd stolen base of the year. A fly ball ended the scoring threat, giving Eau Claire just one more chance to level the score to force extra innings.
Reliever Sean Maher made sure Express had the best chance to tie the game (or preferably take the lead) with a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth. The side-armer from New Mexico Junior College struck out two Honkers’ batters, his 11th and 12th strikeouts in just 9.2 innings pitched this summer.
Ledesma pitched a flawless top of the ninth to seal Cha’s first win of the 2016 season. Gonrowski was credited with the loss, his second of the summer. Varsho was the lone Express player with multiple hits, hitting 2-4 against the Honkers’ staff.
Ryan Zimmerman will make his first start this summer in the 12:05 p.m. game against Wisconsin Rapids tomorrow, the front end of the day-night double header. The St. Thomas product has not earned a decision this year in four appearances out of the bullpen, pitching 14.1 innings with a 3.14 ERA. Reagan MacDonald will start the 7:05 p.m. game, looking for his first win in his second start of the season. The 6’8 left-hander was credited with the loss on July 28th against the Mankato MoonDogs in three innings of work, despite only allowing one earned run. MacDonald has a 1.58 ERA in just 5.2 innings pitched for Eau Claire.
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.