An old problem reared its ugly head for the Eau Claire Express.
The team’s struggles on offense had seemingly been left behind after a recent hot streak, but Willmar starting pitcher Matt Ornelas gave the Express a blast from the past at Carson Park. Eau Claire mustered just three hits in an 8-2 defeat to the Stingers on Thursday at Carson Park.
“We have few things to work on … we have to play better than that,” Express manager Dale Varsho said.
The Express also didn’t do themselves many favors on the mound, issuing 11 walks to allow the Stingers to score plenty of runs despite only tallying seven hits.
“Twelve, 13 free passes doesn’t help anybody compete,” Varsho said. “It’s one of those things where we just have to find strikes. If we throw strikes, it could be a whole different ball game.”
Nic Hernandez gave Willmar a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI double. Jaxon Hallmark, Caleb Ricca and Tyler Reichenborn both took bases-loaded walks in the fourth to add three more runs for the Stingers.
That three-run fourth planted Willmar firmly in the driver’s seat, as the Express would have a hard time overcoming any sizable deficit given the way the Stingers were keeping them off the bases.
Eli Wilson sent a solo home run over the left-field fence in the fifth to extend the lead to 5-0 for Willmar.
The Express showed the rumblings of a two-out rally in the fifth, loading the bases thanks to two walks and an error, but Ornelas struck out Nick Brueser to escape the jam and keep Eau Claire off the board.
Eau Claire finally pushed across its first run in the sixth, with Andrew Pratt scoring on an errant throw as the Stingers botched a double play. They scored on another Willmar error in the eighth.
“I’ve got to give them credit,” Express outfielder Devon Garcia said of the Stingers’ pitching. “Guys coming off a doubleheader, it was a rough kind of day. The heat got to us a little bit. We’ll just look to come back and perform (Friday).”
Express starting pitcher Justin Revels lasted 3q innings, but only allowed two earned runs. Thursday’s loss broke a streak of two straight wins for the right-hander after he went 63 innings in his last two starts.
“With Justin Revels, we know he’s been so good. He just had a bad outing,” Varsho said.
Eau Claire committed three errors, one of which was in the three-run fourth for the Stingers. It didn’t help as the walks started to pile up.
Willmar tacked on single runs in the eighth and ninth inning, but with the way the Stingers were pitching, they were insurance that the team didn’t really need.
The Express have lost three of their last four, and will look to get back on track when they host Willmar for the series finale tonight.