Mallards/River Bats series preview

Following their two-game split with the Waterloo Bucks after a 5-2 defeat on Thursday, the Mallards continue their longest road trip of the season with the next stop coming against the first-half North Division champions, St. Cloud.

The River Bats had the day off on Thursday after a July 4 loss to Alexandria 9-4. St. Cloud has won six of its last 10, but have lost three of their last four. St. Cloud was able to hang on and capture the North Division championship by a one-game lead over Duluth.

Madison will start right-hander Brian Smith on the hill – Smith is 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA. He will be making his fifth start of the season and has 14 strikeouts in 25.2 innings pitched. In his last start on June 29 against Duluth, Smith was tough against the Huskies, going seven innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and striking out two in a 5-3 victory for the Mallards.

St. Cloud will throw right-hander Michael Hill on the mound Friday, as he is 1-1 with a 2.00 ERA. The sophomore from Cincinnati will be making his fourth start and has thrown 17 strikeouts in 18.0 innings pitched. Hill shutout Mankato back on June 30 in a 3-0 victory. He went six innings, allowing just two hits and striking out four.

Smith will be facing one of the more high powered offenses in the Northwoods League this season, as St. Cloud will have six representatives at the 2007 Northwoods League All-Star Game in Mankato. A few of those All-Stars include Tim Wheeler, who enters Friday third in the NWL with a .355 batting average along with 22 runs, 18 runs batted in and two home runs. In addition, Wheeler leads the NWL in hits with 44.

All-Star outfielder Matt Fanelli is sixth in the NWL with a .330 average and 13 runs batted in. River Bats All-Star first baseman Adam Kampsen is third in the Northwoods League with 23 RBIs. Needless to say, St. Cloud has the offense to support their excellent pitching staff with a team average of .267 – good enough to be tied for second in the Northwoods League this season.

The River Bats pitching staff has performed as good as their batting, as they sit second in the league with a 2.85 ERA. St. Cloud also ranks first in team strikeouts with 281 and tied for first with five shutouts on the year. This series also features two All-Star relief pitchers, Madison’s Bubba O’Donnell and St. Cloud’s Ryan Wrobel. Wrobel is tied for second with nine saves on the year and O’Donnell is right behind him with eight saves.

As for the Mallards, offensively, All-Star catcher Eric Nielsen enters Friday batting .318 with 10 runs scored, three doubles, six RBIs and has committed one error in 24 appearances at catcher. Evan LeBlanc is hitting .320 (8-for-25) and has four RBIs with runners on base and .385 (5-for-13) with runners in scoring position.

In his last 10 games Randy Molina is hitting .371 (13-for-35) with four runs scored and five runs batted. Shortstop Justin Bristow has come around as of late batting .417 (5-for-12) with three RBIs in his last five games played.

This is a very important series for the Mallards to get off on the right foot for the second half of the season. It will also be crucial for Madison to get the lead early and hold on to it late in the ballgame against St. Cloud. The River Bats are 16-0 when leading after eight innings and 2-12 when trailing after seven innings. St. Cloud rarely losses a game when getting on the board first as they are 14-4 in that category.

Remember Mallards fans, you can catch all the Mallards action on Madison Sports Radio, 100.5 FM. Following the All-Star Break, the Mallards return to the Duck Pond Friday, July 13 against Wisconsin at 7:05 p.m., and it is Short People Appreciation Night. Emmanuel Lewis (AKA Webster) will be on hand. Ticket prices on the day of the game will based on height. All fans on the Great Dane Duck Blind will receive a Mallards t-shirt courtesy of Covance.