In their second-to-last game of the regular season, the Eau Claire Express came up short at Carson Park. Eau Claire lost 1-0 against the playoff-bound St. Cloud Rox on Saturday.
The Express still may be playoff-bound themselves. But they’ll have to wait for another shot to clinch a postseason berth. Eau Claire’s loss, combined with Mankato’s win over Rochester on Saturday night, keeps the magic number at one. An Express win or MoonDogs loss today puts the Express in the playoffs.
The Express have now won 17 of their last 22 games after going 15-21 in the first half of the season.
The Rox lit up the scoreboard first Saturday night when Keaton Kringlen singled to center field and allowed Ricardo Sanchez to snag the only run of the evening.
Infielder Josh Norlin was 3-for-4 on Saturday and while happy with his performance, he was disappointed with the loss.
“We’ve got to play hard every minute with those low scoring games,” Norlin said. “We need to get runners in position and get bunts down. Anything can happen and basically, you’ve got to bring it all every day.”
St. Cloud closer Brent Killam had his way with the Express in the bottom of the ninth besides Norlin.
“My focus was to sit back and knock the ball,” Norlin said. “With (Killam), he’s throwing pretty hard and my approach was hit the inside of the ball and stay back.”
Jake Stevenson was the winning pitcher with eight innings, three hits and eight strikeouts.
Eau Claire starter Caleb Willems went six innings and gave up five hits, one walk and struck out four batters.
“I feel like (the Rox) put the ball in play really well,” Willems said. “They didn’t strike out very much and they fought off a lot of good pitches.”
He said they waited for opportunities if he made a mistake, and when he did, they were patient and put the ball in play.
The Express finished with four hits, but Willems said the scorebook doesn’t show what this team really is.
“If you look at the scoreboard, we didn’t get our bats going,” Willems said. “Those guys are out there battling and there’s a good pitcher for the Rox and tomorrow guys will get to work...we’ll get some revenge.”
Now 23-12 in the second half of the season, Eau Claire is still alive in the playoff chase. It will try to close out the series and regular season with a win over St. Cloud that would give the Express the North Division second-half title. First pitch is at 5:05 p.m. at Carson Park.