When the Eau Claire Express take the field at Carson Park for the first time on June 1, they’ll do so with plenty of their players already having spent quite a bit of time there.
In their first player release for the 2018 season, it’s clear the Express will have a local flavor this summer.
With 120 days until the start of the Northwoods League season, the team announced the signing of 10 Chippewa Valley stars and returning Express players. Of the 10 players announced, seven previously made appearances for the Express in 2017.
First baseman Rudy Rott highlights the first wave of committed guys for the summer. He’s back for a third summer, and he’s had a standout career at Ohio University, batting .311 and totaling 14 home runs through 111 career games for the Bobcats. The Holmen native has also been an on base machine, with a career on-base percentage of .400.
Rott hit .267 with 28 RBIs in 2016, while hitting .267 again last summer with three home runs and 27 RBIs.
“We’ve got a real strong group of returners and local players that is led by third-year player Rudy Rott,” manager Dale Varsho said. “Rudy has a great mindset you need to have each day coming to the ballpark to not only get through the grind of the Northwoods League season, but also maximize the impact that this league can have on your future as a player. He will set a strong example to lead our clubhouse. Our fans will enjoy the experience and local flavor that we have on this year’s roster.”
McDonell grad and Northwoods League All-Star Zach Gilles will also be back patrolling center field. He was a staple in the Express lineup last season, playing in 57 of their 72 games and hitting .315 with 25 stolen bases. He’s a sophomore at Central Michigan.
A trio of Eau Claire North products will also be on the roster.
Adam LaRock will be back for a second straight summer. He spent the first half of last summer playing for the Utica Blue Sox, where he maintained a .247 average over the course of 27 games. He then played in seven games with Eau Claire where he helped with the late season push into the 2017 Northwoods League Playoffs. He was 5-for-17 with a home run.
LaRock spent the 2017 spring with the Iowa Hawkeyes, although he made no appearances for the Hawkeyes. He has since transferred to Madison College where he is expected to play outfield.
Winona State freshman Zac Stange, who led North to back-to-back sectional titles in 2016 and 2017, will begin his summer playing for the Express. The 2016 Leader-Telegram All-Area player of the year hit .395 for the Huskies last spring while excelling at shortstop.
Division 1 state player of the Tanner Halvorson rounds out the Huskies’ trio. Halvorson dominated opponents while on the mound, carrying a 10-1 record, striking out 77 of the batters he faced in only 54 innings. Only listed as a pitcher for Indian Hills CC, Halvorson was a dual threat athlete for the Huskies, batting .403 with 21 RBIs and earning All-Big Rivers honors.
Chippewa Falls standout Trevor Olson, a freshman at Xavier, will also play for the Express. The 6-foot-6 lefty has yet to make a pitch at the collegiate level, but he made a name for himself during his high school career, earning first-team All-Big Rivers and first-team Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association All-Region honors his senior year.
Olson had a standout year in Legion Ball last summer.
In addition to the local talent, there are several returners from last year’s Northwoods League playoff team.
Cal Poly infielder Scott Ogrin joins the Express for a second season after a successful 2017 campaign. The Valencia, Calif., native appeared in 31 games last summer and hit .220.
Infielder Nic Ready and pitcher Ethan Nichols, both of Air Force, will also return.
Ready, who played in 16 games for the Express last year, blasted 11 home runs and amassed 53 RBI while boasting a batting average of .340 for Air Force last spring.
Nichols, a left-handed pitcher, made four appearances for the Express, totaling 23 innings and only allowing three runs before his departure. For the Falcons, Nichols threw 60.2 innings last spring while striking out 43 batters.
Luke Eldred of Dallas Baptist rounds out the returning guys and first 10 players committed for the summer. An ace in the rotation last year for the Express, Eldred went 4-2 with a 3.27 ERA in 66 innings pitched. He only allowed 68 hits, eight walks and struck out 35 hitters. He had some crucial big starts in the playoff push. In his high school career, Eldred was tabbed a Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American and also earned Central All-Region honors by Perfect Game in 2016.