The Eau Claire Express split a road doubleheader with the Duluth Huskies Wednesday in a battle of the top two teams in the Great Plains East Division, responding with their bats in a 10-6 win after falling 4-3 in the opener.
Nick Marinconz, Carter Graham and Robert Hogan each drove in a pair in Game 2 as the Express built up enough cushion to absorb a five-run seventh inning from the Huskies.
Eau Claire led wire-to-wire, going out to a 3-0 advantage in the first on a Graham single, a wild pitch and an Anthony Chavez putout before adding an additional run in the second on another wild pitch.
Duluth got that run back a half inning later, but the Express added six straight from the fourth through seventh innings to extend the deficit.
Graham got Ryan Lin-Peistrup home on a sacrifice fly in the fourth, then Hogan walked in a runner in the sixth before Alejandro Macario got an RBI single a batter later. A three-run seventh featured a two-RBI double from Marinconz and an RBI single from Hogan.
That alleviated the pressure caused by a walk-fest in the bottom of the seventh, with Duluth getting seven straight free passes to start the frame. Garrett Nicholson came in to stop the bleeding, and he was able to get a run-scoring double play before forcing a groundout to escape. He then sent the Huskies down 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth.
Duluth won Game 1 on a tiebreaking sacrifice fly from Peyton Powell in the seventh inning, a productive out that brought home Michael Brooks for the 4-3 advantage.
Eau Claire opened the day with a run in the first inning, but Duluth responded by building a 3-1 lead through the first five frames. The Express erased that advantage with a two-run triple by Fall Creek native Marcus Cline, making his Northwoods League debut, but Powell negated those efforts an inning later.
The Express outhit Duluth in the opener 9-7, getting two each from Cline, Marinconz and Lin-Peistrup. Marinconz joined Cline as the other players with an extra-base hit, earning a double.
Eddy Pelc took the loss in allowing the final run, dropping him to 0-5 of the season. Starter Nick Malmberg was on the hook for the other three Duluth scores, which all came earned during his six innings on the mound.
Eau Claire sits a game back of Duluth at 5-5 in the second half.
The Express return to Carson Park Thursday to kick off a four-game homestand before the All-Star break. The stretch will feature a pair of two-game series, first against Mankato on Thursday and Friday and then Rochester on Saturday and Sunday.
First pitch Thursday is set for 6:35 p.m.