The Eau Claire Express are heading to the Northwoods League playoffs.
With one game remaining in the 2019 season, the Express punched their tickets to postseason action with an 11-6 victory over the Waterloo Bucks on Saturday night in Waterloo.
It was the first game of the Express’ two-game set with the Bucks, but now that series will be extended as the two teams will face off in a best two-out-of-three series starting Monday for the right to be crowned Great Plains East champions.
The road to the 2019 playoffs came with a little bit of luck. On Aug. 3, the Duluth Huskies were stripped of five wins due to a roster violation, dropping the Huskies below Eau Claire in the subdivision. The La Crosse Loggers had a chance to make it interesting in the final night of the season after a 6-5 win over the Bismarck Larks kept them alive for a playoff spot, but Eau Claire’s victory meant La Crosse will fall at least a game short this year due to tiebreakers.
Saturday night got off to a rough start for Eau Claire. Starter Tim Ewald gave up five runs, four earned, in the first 3.1 innings before being yanked for reliever Paul Petit.
The Express broke through for a run in the fourth inning, when Vincent Martinez doubled to left, scoring Zach Gilles from second.
An inning later, Gilles tripled to center field, scoring Matt Bottcher and David LaManna to cut the Bucks’ lead to 5-4.
Petit surrendered just one run over 1.2 innings and exited the game to open the sixth.
After scoring a run in the seventh, Eau Claire burst out in the eighth. Sam Kohnle led off the inning with a walk. Cole Cabrera followed with a one-out walk of his own before Brock Burton singled to load the bases and put the go-ahead run on base.
Two batters later, LaManna gave Eau Claire a lead it wouldn’t surrender when he cleared the bases with a double to left. Gilles followed with an RBI triple of his own, his second triple of the game, and Nick Marinconz added another insurance run with a RBI double to left.
Peyton Sherlin and Kuster Kinlecheenie wrapped up the game, with each throwing two scoreless innings.
The Express are likely to open their postseason action in Waterloo on Monday before coming back to Eau Claire for Game 2 on Tuesday and Game 3 on Wednesday, if it is necessary.
Earlier in the day, Bottcher was named to the Northwoods League’s postseason All-Star Team, the only Eau Claire representative on the 30-man squad. Bottcher wrapped up Saturday’s action hitting .367, with 40 RBIs and 44 runs scored.
Express play-by-play man Pete Knutson was also named co-Play-by-Play Announcer of the Year along with Green Bay’s Jarin Matheny.
Madison Mallards outfielder Justice Bigbie was named the league’s Most Valuable Player after boasting a .349 average and a league-leading 70 RBIs heading into Saturday’s action. The Western Carolina sophomore is also second in the league with 12 home runs.
Traverse City’s Andrew Hoffman was named the Pitcher of the Year after leading the league with eight wins and a 1.08 ERA in 12 appearances.
Josh Rebandt of Traverse City was named Manager of the Year in his first season at the helm for the top-of-the-standings Pit Spitters. Wisconsin Rapids’ Will Flynt was named Coach of the Year.
Eau Claire 11, Waterloo 6
Eau Claire 001 120 151 — 11 14 3
Waterloo 031 110 000 — 6 13 3
WP: Peyton Sherlin (2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K). LP: Dylan Phillips (1.2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 1 K).
Leading hitters — Eau Claire: Matt Bottcher 3-4 (R), David LaManna 2-4 (2 R, 3 RBI, 2B), Zach Gilles 2-3 (3 R, 3 RBI, 2 3B), Nick Marinconz 2-5 (2 RBI, 2B); Waterloo: Patrick Ferguson 2-4 (R, RBI), Dylan Phillips 2-4 (R), Reid Conlee 2-3 (R, RBI), Morgan Hostetler 2-2 (2 R, RBI)
Records: Eau Claire 39-30; Waterloo 34-34.