The Eau Claire Express got the pitching it’s been waiting for through the first seven games of the season on Monday night. The offense was just as dominant, adding up to the team’s most complete game thus far.
Matt Verdun, Alec Baker and Nick Herold combined to allow just one run on seven hits in the Express’ 14-1 victory against the La Crosse Loggers.
After allowing at least 14 runs in every game of the opening series with Bismarck and 11 to Duluth on Sunday, an outing like this is a huge relief and a morale booster. Express manager Dale Varsho said he’s happy to have a bit more stability and a bigger bench thanks to some recent arrivals.
“Our pitching has been really questionable,” Varsho said. “Tonight was a good night. Last home game was a good night. We’ve just got to figure out how to throw more strikes and be more competitive on the mound.”
The offense, which did a majority of its damage in the middle innings, was led by Sam Kohnle with five RBIs. Eau Claire batted around in both the fourth and eighth.
“I was really happy I was able to find some holes,”Kohnle said. “You’ll take those whenever you can.”
La Crosse opened the evening’s scoring in the first when a Tony Bullard liner got past a diving Troy Beilsmith at third base and scored Cody Jefferis from second.
The Express had an excellent chance to respond in the bottom of the inning when Gibeau walked three to load the bases with two outs, but Eau Claire was unable to capitalize. Gibeau got Kohnle to hit into a 6-4 putout.
Instead, the response came in the third. Nick Lopez kicked it off with a leadoff double off the top of the right field wall. He advanced on a wild pitch and Phillip Sikes was hit by a pitch, setting up runners at the corners with no outs for Connor Laspina.
Laspina delivered with a sharp liner that went off the glove of the Logger third baseman, Bullard, and into foul territory. Lopez scored to tie and Sikes advanced to third on a display of aggressive baserunning, allowing Laspina to advance to second in the process.
Kohnle then came up to the plate and drove in both on a double to left field. La Crosse’s Vinni Massaglia overplayed the ball, allowing it to roll behind him to the wall.
Eau Claire extended the lead in the fourth, taking advantage of Gibeau loading the bases on 12 straight balls to open the frame. Sikes hit into a fielder’s choice, but Shirley’s throw to second didn’t beat the runner and allowed Beilsmith to score. Two batters later Kohnle hit a single into shallow center field to score another and chase the Logger starter.
“Coach Varsho’s been telling us we have a great hitting team and I think we really believe that,” Kohnle said. “All our guys come to each come back and compete.”
Jacob Little entered the game but couldn’t get out of the tough situation, allowing Lopez to score from third on a wild pitch and Adam Krajewski to score two more on a double.
Putting a damper on the strong pitching performance was an injury to Verdun, who was forced to leave in the middle of an at-bat in the fifth inning due to a blister according to Varsho. He went 4.1 innings, allowing just six hits and two walks while striking out three.
But the relievers were able to easily carry the team the rest of the way.
“Once the pitching gets going and you hold them to so few runs, it gives you a bit more confidence at the plate,” Kohnle said. “That leads to more success when you’re hitting.”
An error by La Crosse gave the Express their ninth run, as what should have been an easy throw out at first went past his outstretched arm and allowed Beilsmith to score from third.
Little allowed two more runs to the Express in the seventh to make it 11-1 before getting pulled with one out in the frame.
The Express loaded the bases again to start the eighth inning, allowing Avery Lehman and Sikes to each score a runner with a base hit and Kohnle with a walk.
“There’s a lot of guys that are here temporarily and Sam is one of them,” Varsho said. “He’s playing great. Hard worker, really putting his numbers in. That’s great.”
Both teams will make the short trip down to La Crosse for a 6:35 p.m. matchup today before returning to Carson Park on Wednesday.
Eau Claire 14, La Crosse 1
La Crosse 100 000 000 — 1 7 2
Eau Claire 003 510 23X — 14 16 2
WP: Alec Baker (2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K). LP: Dylan Gibeau (3.1 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 6 BB, 2 K).
Leading hitters — Eau Claire: Sam Kohnle 3-4 (2B, 5 RBI), Boone Montgomery 3-5, Troy Beilsmith 2-5, Connor Laspina 2-5 (2 RBI), Sam Stonskas 2-5, Adam Krajewski 1-5 (2 RBI).
Records: Eau Claire 2-5, La Crosse 2-5.