by Lance Jones
The Thunder Bay Border Cats have had a bit of a rough season. At 15-26 entering play on Tuesday, only eight losses or roughly just less than a third have been by four runs or more. And even of those losses only the loss to Duluth back in May was put away early in the game. Well this one was the rare real clunker. The Eau Claire Express scored a myriad of runs early and that will just give a good starting pitcher the easy button. With the Thunder Bay Border Cats’ difficulties at the plate that was all the ingredients necessary for a 10-2 Express smack down of the Cats in game one of a two game set.
The Express have won all five meetings between the teams this year and these games are very important in the race for the second half title. The Cats and Express play eight of the next 12 against each other including this game. After the last match up on July 23rd both teams may know exactly where their campaign’s stand after the season series is over.
Lady luck was smiling on the Express early. Spencer Myers (Notre Dame) right out of the gate hit a comebacker to Starter Peyton Burks (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) and it just grazed off his glove, leaving Nate Soriano (Houston Baptist) with very no opportunity to get him. With Myers on, that meant first baseman Jake Engel (Dixie State) was forced to patrol the bag and Nick Lopez (Illinois-Chicago) slapped one right where he would have been. That put the pressure on the starter’s shoulders. He promptly walked Cole Cabrera (Cal Poly) and the stage was set for a big inning. The Express would not disappoint. Troy Beilsmith (Evansville) knocked in Myers on a sac fly to centre. Back to back doubles into both outfield gaps from Vincent Martinez (Stanford) and Brock Burton (Grand Canyon) completed a four run first inning.
Connor Laspina (Flagler) hit a real knuckleball that Cats Shortstop Soriano had to hit the field for and the impact with the grass caused the ball to squirt out. In an attempt to throw him out, Soriano rifled one away from Engel at first and Laspina took second. A ground out moved him to third. Back to back Burks walks however loaded the bases for the second straight inning. Beilsmith hit an infield single that scored Laspina. A balk was called as Burks was ruled to have not paused bringing home Cabrera.
At that point with it 6-0, the rest of the game was academic. Colt Mink (2-2) had everything a pitcher could ask for, it was like Christmas in July. He would have smooth sailing through five innings for his second straight win. Mink struck out three on five hits and two runs with two walks.
Burks (0-2) who makes a living on the outside of the plate, like many pitchers who make their money there, could not establish it and never seemed to get in a rhythm. He took his second straight loss in as many starts as some luck hits and tough walks were enough to chase him.
Lopez would connect on his first home run of the season, a solo effort in the fourth off of Trent Valentine (Iona College-NY). Valentine looked strong through three innings in his first appearance in more than a week. He managed two whiffs with four hits and one run allowed.
Jakob Newton (Florida Tech) singled home Engel’s leadoff double in the fourth. He would steal a base and get to third on a pass ball but would be left there trying to hitch hike a ride home. Nobody came along. The Express were up 7-1 at this point.
Another leadoff base hit had the Cats in business in the fifth. Joe Jimenez (Chapman University) roped a single in to centre. Ryne Edmondson (Houston Baptist) got plunked by Mink on an odd pitch. It looked like Mink was of two minds whether to go to first with a pickoff move or come home and took option C, with a massive hitch in his delivery, picture a Charles Barkley golf swing out of a pitcher, he hit Edmondson in the shoulder. Engel plated Jimenez on an incomplete double play.
The Express would throw down a three spot in the sixth to round out the scoring.
Cats pitcher Alex Dafoe (Friends University), who is currently in the rotation was forced in, in the eighth and ninth. He struck out four of the six hitters he faced.
Kuster Kinlecheenie (Montevallo), who’d been struggling this year with a sky high 17.61 ERA came in and lowered his ERA a full six points. Kinlecheenie had a couple of hiccups with two hit batsmen and three walks but was super effective otherwise allowing just one hit and striking out two over four innings for a long save.
The Cats turn to Ryan Windham (Creighton) (2-0 0.00 ERA) to make a spot start on Wednesday. He has pitched out of some stressful situations out of the bullpen and succeeded at every turn. Eau Claire will turn to starter Tanner Kohlhepp (Tennessee) (1-1 6.95) on Wednesday. He threw 4 2/3 against Thunder Bay on June 9th with a no decision. It is Weenie Wednesday for the second game of the home stand. $1 hot dogs at the ball park as long as concessions stay open. It is also Retro Hat Night #2 where the first 150 fans through the gates receive a Border Cats Baseball Hat.