Madison, WI – June 18, 2008. It was another offensive struggle at the “Duck Pond” tonight, as the Madison Mallards dropped the series finale to the Eau Claire Express 4-2 in front of 5,553 people. The Mallards could only manage four hits off a trio of Express pitchers, three of which were singles by Brandon Wikoff (Illinois), and struck out 14 times on the night. With the loss the Mallards fall to 12-7 and are currently in third place in the South Division, one game behind second-place La Crosse.
Matt Jansen (Purdue) took the mound for the Mallards with a 2-0 record and a 0.90 ERA on the season. He ran into some difficulty in the first, but worked out of the inning with no damage. He gave up a leadoff single to Brooks Pinckard, who then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Robbie Knight. Jansen then issued a free pass to Kole Calhoun, putting runners on first and second with one out. But he set down Kyle Holloway on strikes and got David Cales to groundout to second to retire the side.
In the bottom of the inning Wikoff grounded to short and beat the throw to first to reach with one away. He advanced to second base on a passed ball and then moved up to third on a flyout to center by Josh Groves (UW-Milwaukee). Rob Lyerly (Charlotte) followed and dumped a 2-2 fastball over the shortstop’s head for an RBI single, extending his hitting streak to eight games and giving the Mallards an early 1-0 advantage. The run in the first inning tonight marked the fourth time the Mallards have scored at least one run in the opening frame this season, and the 11th time in 19 games they have scored first.
Both pitchers cruised through the second inning. Jansen retired the Express on six pitches with two groundouts and a flyout, and Express starter Chris Odegaard struck out the first two men he faced, before walking Drew Martin (NC State). But he got Phil Gosselin (Virginia) to lineout to second to end the inning.
The Express got on the scoreboard in the top of the third inning, jumpstarted by Landis Ware’s leadoff stand-up triple to right center. Pinckard stepped in and grounded out to second, which was all the speedy Ware needed to cross the plate. Jansen put away the next two batters he faced to keep the game tied at one after two-and-a-half.
The top of the Mallards order got right back to work after the Express tied the game in the top half of the third. Aaron Bray (Charlotte) drew a leadoff walk and went to second on Wikoff’s second hit of the game, a single between shortstop and third base. Groves also worked the count and earned a walk to load the bases with no outs. Lyerly could not come through and went down on strikes for the first out of the inning. Eric Nielsen (Purdue) blasted a pitch to right field that was deep enough to score Bray from third, who was tagging up on the flyout. Luke Stewart (UAB) followed with an inning-ending flyout to left, stranding two but ending the inning with the Mallards back on top 2-1.
The Express had baserunners in the fourth and fifth but were unable to plate any more runs off the Mallards left-hander, while Odegaard faced the minimum in the fourth through sixth innings. The Mallards held on to the 2-1 lead until the top of the sixth, when the Express tied the game at two. Calhoun doubled to right center to lead off the inning and advanced to third on an errant back-pick attempt at second by the Mallards catcher Nielsen. Holloway flew out to right which scored Calhoun from third to tie the game. Jansen then loaded the bases on a double, a walk and a single by the next three hitters, but got two flyouts to avoid any more Express runs. He was relieved by Brandon Johnson (Western Carolina) in the seventh after pitching six innings, allowing five hits and two earned runs.
Johnson did not have his best stuff tonight, retiring the leadoff batter Pinckard before allowing the next three men to reach, with Holloway adding an RBI single that scored Knight to make the score 3-2 for the Express. After Holloway’s base knock Johnson was relieved by Nathan Kafka (Minnesota State), who was looking to improve on an outing two nights ago in which he allowed three runs in just two-thirds of an inning pitched and took the loss. Kafka got out of the seventh with a groundout and a flyout, stranding runners on second and third. He kept the Mallards close in the eighth and ninth, allowing just one run in the ninth, but the offense could not put anything together off Express relievers Cales and Calhoun.
Tonight was a struggle offensively for the Mallards, who only had two baserunners in the final six innings. In the same span Mallards hitters struck out nine times. Johnson took the loss and fell to 2-2, while Odegaard improved to 2-1 with the win. He worked six innings, allowing three hits and one earned run, which striking out eight.
The Mallards will welcome the Duluth Huskies to the “Duck Pond” tomorrow and Friday, with both games starting at 7:05 p.m. Thursday is Harley-Davidson Night, with Mallards bandanas going to the first 500 fans in the Duck Blind. It is also Stop-N-Go Duck Bill Hat Night (first 1,000 kids). Friday is PA Guy Aaron Sims Commemorative Pint Glass Night! (first 750 21 & over). Also, the Human Cannonball David “The Bullet” Smith will appear after Friday’s game. Great seats still remain for the series against Duluth and can be purchased online at mallardsbaseball.com or by calling 608.246.4277.