The Eau Claire Express are a win away from clinching a playoff spot thanks to two players who won’t be around to see postseason action.
Starter Medin Milla kept the Bismarck Larks off balance for seven innings, but it was Alec Trela’s fifth-inning two-run homer that proved the decisive blow in the Express’ 6-3 victory over the Larks in the regular season home finale Friday night at Carson Park.
Any playoff celebrations will have to wait until the upcoming Waterloo road trip due to the La Crosse Loggers’ 8-1 victory over Thunder Bay.
There was no talk of the La Crosse game in the Express dugout, according to Express manager Dale Varsho and outfielder Cole Cabrera, who were both unaware of the La Crosse score.
“We just keep to ourselves,” Cabrera said. “If La Crosse wins, they win, but we control our own destiny and we’re focused on Waterloo for this weekend.”
If Eau Claire can win one of its next two games or La Crosse loses either of its next two against Bismarck, the Express will be back in the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Both Milla and Trela joined the club after the Aug. 2 playoff roster deadline, making them ineligible for postseason action. However, they both came up big for the Express on Friday night.
Trela’s homer came off a 78.5 mph fastball that he crushed over the right field wall onto the neighboring Carson Park football field. It scored Matt Bottcher who led off the fifth with a walk.
“I’m just glad I was able to help,” said Trela, who played for the Express last year as well. “It was nice seeing some familiar guys. … Honestly, it was a treat. I’m happy to help.”
The Express looked like they might run away with the game early. Zach Gilles led off the bottom of the first a walk before Nick Marinconz and Bottcher hit back-to-back singles to load the bases. But David LaManna followed by grounding into a run-scoring double play to quell the rally.
Gilles put Eau Claire up 3-0 in the second inning when he scored from second on a single from Marinconz.
Milla made the most of what will be his lone appearance of the season for Eau Claire. He threw 107 pitches in the game, making him ineligible to play in either of Eau Claire’s final two regular season games.
“They welcomed me with open arms,” Milla said. “The coaches were great to me. It felt like home for the last few days and I wish I could be here for the playoffs, but hopefully I can come back in the next few years to throw a couple starts.”
He held Bismarck to just four hits, but surrendered six walks and a towering three-run shot to right field in the sixth.
“It’s kind of nice to have that kind of guy this late in the year giving us seven (innings),” Varsho said. “He doesn’t throw very hard, but he fills it up.”
Jack Brown and Nick Alvarado combined to wrap up the game, pitching the final two innings without allowing a run.
If Eau Claire can clinch, they’ll return home on either Monday or Tuesday for a date with the Waterloo Bucks.
“I expect to be back here,” Cabrera said. “I think we have some really good arms going who can keep us in the game and if we can get the bats going, we’ll be back.”
Before any playoff action, the Express have to head out to Waterloo for the final series of the season starting at 6:35 p.m. today. It is likely they would stay in Waterloo for Monday’s playoff opener to make travel easier, but the League has not confirmed.
Eau Claire 6, Bismarck 3
Bismarck 000 003 000 — 3 5 2
Eau Claire 210 002 01x — 6 7 0
WP: Medina Milla (7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 BB, 6 K). LP: Matt Warkentin (0.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 0 K).
Leading hitters — Bismarck: Wyatt Ulrich 3-4 (R, 3 RBI); Eau Claire: Nick Mariconz 2-3 (R, RBI), Alec Trela 1-2 (R, 2 RBI, HR), Zach Gilles 1-2 (2 R).
Records: Eau Claire 19-15; Bismarck 11-23.