Eau Claire, WI- It’s just one of 72 in the standings, but if Tuesday’s walk-off loss showed us anything, it’s that this Express team has the will to fight when the odds are stacked against them. While Eau Claire would eventually fall 2-1 on a walk-off single courtesy of Bismarck’s Cullen Smith, Express fans can take pride in the fact that their team battled until the bitter end with a bare-bones roster depleted of bodies as the team awaits the arrival of several signees with NCAA Tournament scheduling conflicts.
Entering tonight’s matchup with the Larks, Eau Claire’s active roster was composed of 14 members, with only six of those 14 being position players. Because of these roster limitations, Manager Dale Varsho was forced to slot pitchers Tanner Umentum and Luke Eldred into the lineup in left field and first base respectively.
Dominant starting pitching played a key role early-on in this one as Eau Claire’s Ethan Nichols battled with Bismarck’s Ryan Byrd for six innings to keep things scoreless. Nichols turned in a picture-perfect debut outing, as the Air Force lefty surrendered just 5 hits on the night. While he failed to match Byrd in the strikeout department (10), Nichols didn’t allow a single extra-base hit and did a fantastic job of inducing weak contact from the Larks’ offense. If his prowess on the bump wasn’t impressive enough, Nichols made sure to do his part on the offensive end as well, chipping in a couple of singles in both of his at bats from the nine-hole.
It wasn’t until Nichols was removed in seventh inning that Bismarck would push across the first run of the contest on two-out single by David Salguiero. The Express would get the run right back in the eighth, after Nic Ready laced a double to right field to score Justin Evans from third. With two outs and runners on second in third, Eau Claire had an opportunity to take the lead, but Daniel Jones would go down on strikes to retire the side, keeping things knotted up at one apiece.
After surrendering the game’s first run when he relieved Nichols to start the seventh, reliever Jake Moebius would go on to pitch a scoreless eighth before he was called upon to maintain the 1-1 tie in the final frame. Under normal circumstances, Moebius might have not have been asked to head out for a third inning of work, yet with a lack of alternatives, Varsho was essentially forced to send the Western Carolina product out to the bump in an attempt to get the game to extras.
Moebius would face just two batters in the ninth, giving up a Quinn Irey double followed by the final blow from Smith, effectively ending the Express’ bid to pull out the win several men down.
Eau Claire native Travis Berg will take the mound for the Express tomorrow in the second and final game of the short series. Berg, a freshman at Minnesota-Duluth, threw 15.2 innings in 11 appearances this spring, recording a 9/14 BB/K rate and a 5.17 ERA.
The Eau Claire Express are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. The 23-year-old summer collegiate league is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 20 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 170 former Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS), two-time World Series Champion Ben Zobrist (CHC) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (BOS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM) and Lucas Duda (NYM). 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 or on Google Play and set the Express as your favorite team.