Eau Claire, WI – After suffering a disappointing walk-off loss in their season opener Tuesday night, the Express picked up win number one of the 2017 season in a 8-3 victory over the Bismarck Larks.
Getting the nod on the bump and picking up the win for the Express would be Eau Claire-native Travis Berg. Although the 6’3 right-hander served up six walks over the course of six innings, Berg was able to work out of trouble often. Limiting Bismarck’s offense to three runs on the night, while recording five outs via the K.
With the Express being short on arms in the early going of this season, Berg’s ability to eat innings on a night when he didn’t seem to have a great handle on his stuff should earn the pitcher some gratitude from Express manager Dale Varsho, as Eau Claire continues to await the arrival of some much needed reinforcements to it’s roster.
Bismarck put the pressure on right from the get-go after Berg walked two batters in the first inning, punching in the first run of the game on a sac fly by Noah Sadler. But as we would see throughout the night, Berg was able to dodge the big inning by getting Larks catcher Quinn Irey to sky one for an infield pop-up.
Berg would find himself in sticky situations once again in the second and third innings, as he allowed five batters to reach base via two walks, two doubles and a single in those frames. Frustratingly for the Larks, Berg wiggled his way through trouble without letting things get out of hand by permitting just two of those runners to score.
The second half of Berg’s night was essentially devoid of the stresses of the first three innings for the Minnesota-Duluth freshman, as he struck out three while conceding just one hit in the fourth, fifth and six innings.
Trailing 3-0 in the top of the fourth, the Eau Claire offense sparked to life for the first time this season. Berg would continue the early-season trend of Express starting pitchers contributing at the plate, driving in the first Eau Claire run of the game with a single to second base that scored Brian Grove from third. The bats would tack on another run before the end of the inning with Luke Eldred scoring from third on a Justin Evans sac-fly to make it a one-run game at 3-2.
Refusing to let up in the fifth, Eau Claire would tie things up at 3-3 with Nic Ready starting the side with a walk, and eventually scoring when Taylor Field reached on an error. An RBI single by Grove, followed by a booming run-scoring double to left by Tanner Umentum would make it 5-3, with Eau Claire adding another run before the third out after Umentum scored on a wild pitch.
The Express would come up with two additional runs in the seventh and eighth innings to make it 8-3, capping off a multi-inning rally of eight unanswered runs. All in all the Eau Claire offense would draw nine walks for the game, exuding the patience necessary to take advantage of a Lark’s pitching staff that continually struggled to find the zone.
Austin George, a righty from Charleston, pitched two shutout innings of relief in the seventh and eighth after Berg was pulled. George would strike out three while allowing just one hit before handing the game over to Victor Chavez for the ninth. Chavez flashed some electric stuff while working with a four-run lead, striking out the side to record the game’s final three outs.
After locking up the first win of the season, the Express will head east to Willmar, MN for a quick two-game set with the Stingers before returning home to Eau Claire for Saturday’s home opener at Carson Park.
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.