Things were looking great for a long time for Shane Spencer and the Eau Claire Express on Wednesday. They soured in a hurry.
The Express pitcher was shooting for a complete game with a 2-1 lead to work with, and appeared to be in good shape to pull it off. He’d limited St. Cloud to one run through the first eight innings, and retired the leadoff batter on a ground out to start the ninth.
But then Peter Abinanti singled for the Rox, and Brice Matthews followed with a walk. It prompted a pitching change for Eau Claire, but St. Cloud kept the momentum rolling. After the first out, six of the next seven Rox batters reached base.
Six runs came across to score, and the Express couldn’t answer in the bottom of the ninth in a 7-2 loss at Carson Park.
The Rox tied the game on an Express error in the ninth, and Easton Waterman put St. Cloud ahead with a two-RBI single. Jordan Schulefand added a run-scoring single before Nick Yovetich iced things away with a two-RBI triple.
The Express went down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Eau Claire had taken a 2-0 lead on Connor Burns’ two-run home run in the fifth inning. It was the only bright spot on a sluggish day for the lineup, which was held to three hits. The Express struck out eight times.
Spencer was dealing early on, and held the Rox to three hits through the first eight innings while striking out eight.
It was a tough loss to swallow for an Express team in the thick of a playoff push. The defeat dropped Eau Claire to 12-14 in the second half and a game and a half behind Great Plains East Division leader Waterloo.
The Express are a half-game behind second-place Duluth in the standings. Waterloo won the first-half division title, and if the Bucks were to win the second-half title, the second-place team would make the playoffs.
The Express host the last-place Minnesota Mud Puppies on Thursday at Carson Park. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m.