A huge early push had the Eau Claire Express well-situated on Wednesday.
But a late-game surge from the other dugout ended that notion quickly.
Eau Claire couldn’t make its eight-run first inning hold up, coughing up the lead late in a 14-11 defeat to Waterloo in Waterloo. The Bucks scored five runs in the sixth inning to pull ahead and overturn what had been an eight-run deficit.
“(We) just tried to get a couple back,” Bucks outfielder Paul Steffensen said on the Northwoods League broadcast. “Hopefully you can get a little momentum in those early innings after that huge letdown of a first inning and just start battling your way back and chipping away at the lead. We just started chipping early and got some momentum.”
The loss left the Express’ playoff hopes on life support. They trail Duluth for second place in the Great Plains East Division by three games with three left on the schedule.
With one more Huskies win, the Express would be eliminated from postseason contention.
Connor Burns and Alejandro Macario had three hits apiece for Eau Claire. The Express out-hit the Bucks 16-14, but didn’t beat them in the most important column on the scoreboard.
Eau Claire had six consecutive batters reach base as part of their huge first inning, but couldn’t tack on any insurance runs until the fifth. It allowed Waterloo to slowly claw back into the game.
The Bucks scored once in the first and twice in the second, eventually trimming the lead to 8-6 with three runs in the fourth. They took the lead on a bases-clearing double from Steffensen in the sixth.
“I was just looking for a pitch that I could handle and ultimately drive in a couple,” he said.
The Express never recovered from surrendering the lead. They went scoreless in the final three innings.
Eau Claire (14-19) will take on Waterloo again on Thursday night before heading to Willmar for a two-game series to close out the regular season. Brandt Pancer (0-5, 6.49 ERA) will toe the rubber on Thursday in Waterloo.
Duluth (16-15) plays Mankato (19-13) on Thursday with a chance to clinch a playoff berth.