The Eau Claire Express still have a shot at the postseason, but need a sweep in their final series and some help to get there.
The Express pulled away with four runs in the sixth and two more in the eighth in an 8-2 road victory against the Waterloo Bucks Thursday night, but the team they are chasing in the standings, the Duluth Huskies, had hot bats too. Duluth survived a slugfest with Mankato 14-8.
The Bucks sit atop the second half standings in the Great Plains East Division currently, but already punched their ticket to the postseason by finishing first in the division in the first half. The Leader-Telegram previously stated in this case the team that finishes in second in the division in the second half would then make the playoffs, but that was incorrect. The Great Plains East Division’s second playoff spot would then go to the top remaining team in the overall standings.
The Leader-Telegram regrets this error.
At 27-39 overall, the Express sit two games back of Duluth in the overall standings with two games left to go for each team. Eau Claire holds the tiebreaker, thus still has a chance at the playoffs. They need to sweep a regular season-closing series with the Willmar Stingers and have Duluth lose twice to the Bismarck Larks.
Eau Claire is looking to appear in the Summer Collegiate World Series for the second straight time. The Express sat out last year, but the Northwoods did not put on a league-wide playoff and championship amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Eau Claire got out to a 2-0 lead in the third inning when Carter Graham drove home both Zach and Drew Lechnir on a double to right field. After Waterloo got one back an inning later, Ryan Lin-Peistrup came up clutch in a two-out, bases-loaded situation by clearing the runners with a double. A batter latter, Eddie Park tacked on one more run with a single to push the advantage to 6-0.
Park had a second RBI in the eighth on another single before Graham rounded out the scoring with a base knock. Waterloo got one more run in the ninth but the comeback effort was halted quickly.
Brandt Pancer earned his first win of the year on the mound for Eau Claire, allowing just one earned run and five hits in eight innings of work. He struck out six. Eddy Pelc came in for the ninth to finish it.
First pitch Friday and Saturday between Eau Claire and Willmar is 7:05 p.m.