The Eau Claire Express entered the weekend needing to sweep the Willmar Stingers in a two-game series and get help to earn a spot in the playoffs. The team’s series was a sweep, just not in Eau Claire’s favor.
The Express fell in each of their final two games of the season, dropping Friday’s contest 17-2 and Saturday’s 11-8 to end the team’s hopes of making a second consecutive Summer Collegiate World Series appearance. Eau Claire missed out on a playoff spot, with the Great Plains East’s positions instead going to the Waterloo Bucks and Duluth Huskies.
Eau Claire entered the weekend in a battle with the Huskies, with both gunning for the Great Plains East’s second playoff spot. The Bucks won both the first and second half division titles, meaning the second position goes to the highest remaining Great Plains East team in the overall standings. The Express were two games back of Duluth with two games to go and had the advantage in the tiebreaker, but were unable to complete the comeback effort.
The race ended Friday with Eau Claire’s lopsided defeat, which featured Willmar scoring nine runs in the third inning to blow the game wide open. The Stingers batted around, with Brady Counsell hammering a grand slam to highlight the offensive clinic.
Duluth lost to the Bismarck Larks 8-7 that night, meaning the Express would have survived to Saturday with a victory. Eau Claire’s fate wasn’t in its own hands though, and the Huskies’ 13-3 win against Bismarck Saturday would have eliminated the Express even if they finished with a perfect weekend.
Eau Claire went 15-21 in the second half of the season, finishing in fourth place in the Great Plains East. That was an improvement on the first half, which saw the team go 12-20. Overall, Eau Claire’s 27-41 on the year also placed it fourth in the Great Plains East.
Eddie Park finished as the Eau Claire leader in batting average, hitting .323. He was the only member of the team above .300, with Anthony Chavez finishing second at .288. Connor Burns led the squad with six home runs.
Getting on base was an issue for the Express throughout the season. They finished last in the Northwoods League in team batting average, hitting .225. They also finished last in the Northwoods in home runs (12), doubles (48), triples (4) and runs (157).
Reliever Luke Trahan was Eau Claire’s most accomplished pitcher, finishing with a perfect 0.00 ERA in 17.2 innings. A Major League Dreams Showcase selection, he earned three saves and posted a 1.02 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched).
Fellow reliever Nick Herold wasn’t far behind, finishing with a .75 ERA in 24 innings of work. As a team, Eau Claire’s pitching placed middle of the back with a 5.09 ERA.
Eau Claire did not have a selection on the Northwoods League Postseason All-Star Team, which was announced Friday. Mankato’s Matt Higgins and Fond du Lac’s Chandler Simpson shared Most Valuable Player honors, while Traverse City’s Cam Schuelke earned Pitcher of the Year.
St. Cloud’s David Bellamy was the Manager of the Year and colleague Brandon Vial was Coach of the Year.