The Eau Claire Express are used to being flexible when it comes to player availability. As a member of a summer collegiate league, the roster shuffles extensively based on players’ university commitments.

This week, Eau Claire is taking a similar mindset when it comes to the coaching staff.

The Express will be without manager Dale Varsho and third base coach Paul Henrichs for two days, with both attending the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association All-Star Games in Wisconsin Dells. Henrichs, who coaches Altoona boys hoops in the winter, is an assistant on one of the squads, while Varsho is watching his daughter Averie compete.

That moved pitching coach Vic Cable up the depth chart to acting manager, while former Express assistant Shawn Peck was brought on on an interim basis.

The first game in this configuration did not go to plan, with a disastrous six-run third inning highlighting a 15-11 Eau Claire loss to Willmar at Carson Park.

Eau Claire got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, with the first two runs coming during a bases-loaded, one-out situation for Omar Gastelum. He hit a single to the right side of the infield to score Ryan Lin-Peistrup, and an error on a throw from the Willmar right fielder allowed Eddie Park to get home as well. A batter later, Robert Hogan earned an RBI groundout.

But Willmar responded with three runs of its own a half inning later on singles from Carter Howell and Grant Kerry, with Kerry scoring a pair, and broke the game open in the third.

The Stingers scored five runs before Eau Claire was able to get an out, with multiple Express pitchers struggling with command. Jace Kressin allowed a single and three straight walks to score a run before being pulled without recording an out. Patrick Collins didn’t fare much better, allowing four runs on two walks, a single and a wild pitch before finally getting an out on a sacrifice fly that drove in a fifth Stinger.

After yet another walk, Collins was pulled for Kaleb Carpenter, who was able to get out of the inning unscathed. In total, 12 Stingers came up to bat in the third as the Express allowed six walks.

Eau Claire got three runs back in the bottom of the third, but Willmar responded with two in the fourth and four more in the fifth. Park earned a pair of RBIs as part of an unanswered five-run Eau Claire spurt in the final four innings, but the deficit remained expansive.

The game lasted nearly four hours, coming in at three hours and 48 minutes.

Eau Claire heads to the road for a doubleheader against Duluth Wednesday before returning for a four-game homestand. Game times for Wednesday are set for 12:05 p.m. and 6:35 p.m.

VIP Visitor

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell was in town for both Monday and Tuesday’s Express games, watching his son Brady suit up for the Stingers during Major League Baseball’s All-Star break. Craig took time away from the action occasionally throughout the night Tuesday to sign autographs and take photos with fans in attendance. He declined a request for an interview.

Brady was handed the distinction of the Express’ Beer Batter of the game Tuesday, meaning the crowd was rooting for him to strike out to secure a discount on beverages. He did so in his first at bat, but then followed up with a pair of walks that resulted in runs. He also notched two RBIs.

Express in the draft

After seeing two Express alums get selected on Day 2 of the MLB draft Monday, two more who have donned the orange and black heard their names called on the final day of the event.

Earning the honor were Phillip Sikes, a TCU outfielder who played for the Express in 2018 and 2019, and Ross Carver, who was with Eau Claire this year. Sikes was selected in the 18th round, 526th overall, by the Boston Red Sox, while Carver went in the 20th round, 588th overall, to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Express alums Tanner Kohlhepp, an Eau Claire Memorial graduate, and Brannon Jordan were drafted Monday.