Sitting on the bench, David LaManna was ready to make his mark all night long.
In the seventh inning on Monday night, the Eau Claire Express substitute got his chance. And he took full advantage.
The catcher smashed a two-out, go-ahead RBI single to left field to put Eau Claire up 5-4, serving as the highlight of a five-run seventh that rallied the Express for a 7-6 win over Bismarck at Carson Park.
The plan all along was for LaManna to sub in for starting catcher Vincent Martinez at some point, but he wasn’t complaining about the opportunity it gave him.
“I just happened to come up in a big spot, got a good pitch, and put a good swing on it,” LaManna said. “I was a little tight, but once you get off the bench you’re in competitor’s mode. I was ready to go.”
The Express entered the seventh trailing 4-2, but Chippewa Falls native Zach Gilles roped a two-RBI single to right to knot the score up with two outs. LaManna put Eau Claire in front shortly after.
“David’s had a great summer,” Express manager Dale Varsho said. “He’s less tired (at this point in the season) than he was last year as a freshman, and he has really had a lot of fun this summer. He’s not dragged out like he was last year.”
And the scoring didn’t end there. The Express put their bodies on the line to pad the lead. Sam Stonskas and Cole Cabrera were hit by pitches in back-to-back at-bats to bring home two runs for Eau Claire and stretch the lead to 7-4.
Every last bit of that insurance was needed. The Larks plated two runs off Express reliever Kuster Kinlecheenie in the eighth to cut the lead to 7-6, although Kinlecheenie managed to strand the bases loaded.
Brandon Dieter, who started the game as an infielder, pitched a scoreless ninth inning to earn the save for Eau Claire.
“We put the guys in the lineup that are going to give us the best chance to compete, and it’s up to them to really get after it,” Varsho said.
The win kept the Express in first place in the Great Plains East Division with five games remaining in the regular season. They lead La Crosse by 1.5 games in the race for a playoff spot.
“Every win’s important right now,” LaManna said. “We’re fighting for that first-place spot.”
The scoring started early for Eau Claire on Monday. On-base machine Cabrera was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the first and promptly stole second and third. Matt Bottcher plated the game’s first run with a sacrifice fly to center shortly after.
Cabrera doubled the Express’ lead with an RBI double into the left-center gap in the second. That lead didn’t last long though.
Bismarck’s Ty Hanchey launched a three-run homer to right field in the top of the third, putting the Larks up 3-2. He homered again in the fifth, this time of the solo variety, to extend Bismarck’s lead to 4-2.
Hanchey nearly had his fourth hit of the game in the seventh, but Express outfielder Brock Burton made a leaping catch at the right field wall to deny him.
Express starting pitcher Craig Colen didn’t pitch poorly, but was terrorized by Hanchey. Both of the catcher’s homers came against Colen, and they accounted for all four of his earned runs.
Colen threw six innings, scattering eight hits while striking out seven and walking two.
Cabrera and Nick Marinconz had two hits apiece to lead Eau Claire. Kinlecheenie got the win in relief.
The Express have an off day today before resuming the four-game series with Bismarck on Wednesday. Andrew Tri, who left Eau Claire earlier this summer, will return to take the mound for the Express. He last pitched for the team on June 16. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m. at Carson Park.
Eau Claire 7, Bismarck 6
Bismarck 003 010 020 — 6 11 1
Eau Claire 110 000 50X — 7 11 1
WP: Kuster Kinlecheenie (2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 1 K). LP: Jack Banks (4.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 K).
Leading hitters — Eau Claire: Cole Cabrera 2-3 (2B, 2 RBI, 2 SB), Nick Marinconz 2-4 (SB). Bismarck: Ty Hanchey 3-5 (2 HR, 4 RBI).
Records (second half): Eau Claire 17-12, Bismarck 10-21.