By Lance Jones
Tanner Kohlhepp (Tennessee), the Eau Claire Express Starter, had a call go against him for a walk in the second inning, and that seemed to ignite beast mode. Kohlhepp did not look back. He wound up punching out the next hitter on three strikes. Kohlhepp backed by one run for most of the game retired the next 14 hitters and struck out 15 Thunder Bay Border Cats in his start on the way to a 6-0 shutout victory. Thunder Bay has dropped to 16-34 overall and 2-13 since the restart.
Eau Claire officially won the season series entering the game and this four-game series is important in their chase for the playoffs. With the win Eau Claire is keeping pace with the division leading Duluth Huskies whom they started a game back of entering play on Saturday night. They missed out by a game on the Great Plains East title to the Waterloo Bucks in the first half. Thunder Bay has won just one of the previous nine meetings against Eau Claire this season.
Border Cat Starter Ryan Windham (Creighton University-NE) could not have done better in his second start of the season. The Castle Rock, Colorado native threw six innings, keeping the Northwoods League’s second best hitting team to two hits and one run on one walk and two strikeouts. He took an undeserved loss dropping to 2-1.
The lone run was allowed in the third. After Brandon Dieter (Stanford) singled to left, Sam Stonskas (Blackhawk CC) got a bouncer down the third base line that went for his second double of the season. Cole Cabrera (Cal Poly) just hit one deep enough to left to score Dieter.
This came after the second inning in which Thunder Bay loaded the bases themselves and could not cash in. Conor Allard (Nevada-Reno) roped his team leading ninth double over the first baseman’s head on the first Kohlhepp pitch of the inning. Joe Jimenez, trying to move him to third inadvertently got aboard on a lined bunt down the third base line which was touched for a fair ball. Back-to-back strikeouts and a Karsten Vasquez (College of San Mateo-CA) walk loaded the bases with two outs. However, Kohlhepp escaped the frame with his third strikeout of the inning.
Kohlhepp (2-1) threw down a performance of the year start, walking one, spraying five hits and striking out exactly half of the thirty hitters he faced for the win.
The Express offense finally backed their man with runs in the seventh. An inconspicuous start to the inning saw league leading hitter Matt Bottcher (Illinois-Chicago) pull the old cheesy bunt single out of the book. Having failed on an attempt earlier in the contest, he put one in the Bermuda triangle (between the mound, first and second), perfectly placed to get aboard. A single and walk later and the bases were full of Express. Sam Kohnle (Winona State) came through on a 2-0 pitch he launched opposite field for a double to score Bottcher and Nick Marinconz (Cal Poly). Dieter would launch a rocket to centre to score David LaManna (Notre Dame) and solidfy the lead to 4-0.
Eau Claire would add two in the eighth to round out the scoring.
Thunder Bay and Eau Claire play the classic Sunday matinee with first pitch slated for 1:35pm. It is Family Day at Port Arthur Stadium with 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, 4 popcorn, 4 pop for $44. It is also Faith Day brought to you by UCB Radio.