The Eau Claire Express almost had a streaker on Saturday night at Carson Park.
Prior to the game Nick Nalewanski promised his college roommate and Winona State teammate, Sam Kohnle, that if Kohnle hit a homer for the Express, he’d see Nalewanski hop the fence and give the fans a show.
Just four outs into the game, Nalewanski’s promise was tested when Kohnle sent a three-run homer over the left-center field wall to open the scoring for Eau Claire. His second inning home run was part of a seven-run inning that should have been plenty for the Express, but the Waterloo Bucks were relentless until the ninth. Thankfully for Eau Claire, Nick Herold closed out the night with a three-up, three-down inning to lift the Express to a 13-12 victory.
It was Kohnle’s first home run since high school, according to his mother, who was part of the eight-person contingent of friends and family that came to see the game.
“The odds of me hitting a home run today were very, very slim,” Kohnle said. “I’ve played first base for the past few years and I just can’t get one over the fence.”
His excitement was clear. As he rounded first base, he pointed to his mini fan section in right field who erupted in excitement.
“I was debating taking my shirt off and running on the field, but my father is here so I had to be careful,” Nalewanski said.
It looked like the game would be a rout for the Express, who added two more runs in the fourth to pull ahead by nine. But then came the fifth inning.
Graham Laubscher, who had been dealing for Eau Claire through four innings, loaded the bases before the Express could get an out. Waterloo’s Mike Nyisztor hit a ground ball toward short that took a strange hop and skipped by Eau Claire’s Sam Stonskas to score a pair. Two batters later, Patrick Ferguson hit a grand slam to pull the Bucks to within three.
Another error by the Express added to Laubscher’s pitch count in the inning. It wouldn’t cost Eau Claire, but Laubscher was forced to exit after throwing 36 pitches in the frame.
The Express got back on track in the bottom of the inning. After two quick outs, Eau Claire rallied for four runs. Bottcher hit a RBI double, then, two batters later and with the bases loaded, Reid Bass hit a line drive triple to put the Express up seven.
The triple was part of Bass’ 4 for 4 night that included three extra-base hits, a run, and five RBIs.
“Reid had an unbelievable game,” Express manager Dale Varsho said. “Probably the best game I’ve seen him play.”
Again, in the seventh, the Bucks came storming back. Reliever Kuster Kinlecheenie loaded the bases before plunking Alonzo Rubalcaba to give up a run. With the bullpen stirring, Varsho let Kinlecheenie face one more batter. Waterloo made him pay, cashing in three on a bases-clearing double by Bryce Wooldridge to make it 13-10.
An inning later, Waterloo brought the tying run to the plate after Herold opened the eighth with a hit batter and a walk. The Bucks opted to have their No. 5 batter bunt, moving two into scoring position. Matt Campos followed with a single to score a run and a sac fly from Alex Ronnebaum brought the Bucks to within one.
But that was as close as they’d come. Herold closed out the game with a 2.2 inning save.
“It’s a little frustrating at times,” Varsho said. “But exciting at the same time. Offensively we did great, but pitching was a little questionable. … Hopefully we can put the defense and pitching behind us and hit like we did tomorrow.”
The Express have now won three in a row and have moved to 5-7 on the season. They play host to the Thunder Bay Border Cats today at 2:05 p.m. at Carson Park.
Express 13, Bucks 12
Waterloo 000 060 420 — 12 7 0
Express 070 240 00x — 13 13 2
WP: Graham Laubscher (5 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 6 K). LP: Zach Jones (3 IP, 7 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 2 K). Leading hitters — Waterloo: Patrick Ferguson 1-2 (4 RBI, 3 R). Eau Claire: Reid Bass 4-4 (5 RBI), Sam Kohnle 1-3 (3 RBI, R), Phillip Sikes 2-4 (3 RBI, 2 R).