Eau Claire, Wis.—The Express fell to the Duluth Huskies 7-2 on Wednesday night, splitting the two-game series that began on Monday. Nick Davito was named player of the game for his four hitless innings of relief, while Kyle Marinconz drove in both Express runs on a double in the seventh. The Express will battle the Thunder Bay Border Cats tomorrow night at 6:35 p.m. at Carson Park.
Duluth would strike first in Wednesday’s North Division battle. Center fielder Daniel Amaral drew a full count walk in the lead off spot and advanced to third on two stolen bases. Express starter Reagan MacDonald nearly pitched out of the jam with two straight non-threatening pop-ups, but a wild pitch allowed Amaral to scamper home to open the scoring. MacDonald continued to struggle with control, walking Jake Pries on five pitches, and allowing the right fielder to advance to third on two wild pitches. Carter Hanford teed off on MacDonald in the following at bat, ripping a two-run home run into the football field in left field to give Duluth an early 3-0 lead.
Corey Gaconi pitched out of a jam in the bottom half of the first, after the Express got two runners in scoring position after a dropped lineout in left field. Gaconi fanned one batter and turned a routine groundout to head to the bench unharmed.
Tyler Duex continued where Duluth left off in the first inning, slapping a lead off triple to kick start another offensive outburst in the top half of the second. Reliever Nick Davito would take over pitching duties with the bases loaded following a MacDonald hit-by-pitch and a four pitch walk. A Brett Milazzo chopper up the middle forced a fielding error for Eau Claire, allowing two runs to cross the plate. Davito pitched out of the inning with a 3-6 reverse force double play to end the inning, the Express down 5-0.
Mickey McDonald hit a sharp line drive that landed in the gap in right center for a two-out double, but Gaconi preserved his shut out with a harmless pop-up to end the fourth.
Davito continued his flawless performance through the top of the fifth, preventing Duluth from allowing a hit in four innings on the mound. Davito produced fly ball after fly ball, giving the Express their best chance at pulling a comeback in the game.
New Mexico Junior College freshman Sean Maher took over for Davito in the top of the sixth, looking to replicate the strong outing by the first Eau Claire reliever. The Huskies capitalized on a new face on the mound, drawing two walks that led to a Brendan McClary RBI single.
In the bottom half of the sixth, Austin Guzzo drew a full count walk and Mickey McDonald pulled a line drive single into right field to give the Express runners on the corners with two outs. Eau Claire was unable to score its first run of the night, as reliever Drew Mullinax sent down the one batter he faced swinging on three pitches, leaving two runners stranded on base.
The Huskies would extend their lead to 7-0 in the top of the seventh on a Matt Brown RBI double that landed just shy of the Fan Deck fence in right field. The one-run double scored Milazzo who led off the inning with a single to Zach Ashford in left field.
The Express proved that Mullinax was mortal in the bottom half of the seventh, tallying back-to-back hits to put two runners in scoring position with nobody out. Kyle Marinconz put the Express on the scoreboard with a double that dropped into shallow center field. Mullinax returned to form with a swinging strikeout and a fly out on the pitcher’s mound to end the inning, but not before the Express narrowed the gap to 7-2.
Mullinax capped off his outing with back-to-back 1-2-3 innings (eighth and ninth), preventing the Express from mounting an improbable comeback and earning his first save of the 2016 season.
Davito was named player of the game for his four no-hit innings of relief, reigning in the Huskies within a reasonable margin for the Express to spark a game-winning rally. Marinconz led the Express offensively with a 2-5 performance from the plate, driving in the two lone runs for Eau Claire in the seventh. McDonald also tallied two hits in the defeat.
Jameson Lavery will get the nod in tomorrow night’s match-up with the Thunder Bay Border Cats at 6:35 p.m. at Carson Park. Since rejoining the Express in late July, Lavery has had several strong outings as a starting pitcher under Dale Varsho. The right-hander has a 2-1 overall record in three starts this season, pitching efficiently in 21.2 innings of work. Lavery has a 2.90 ERA with 11 strikeouts and seven walks.
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.