As the ball skied over the right field wall, Eau Claire’s Gabe O’Brien paused for a second to admire his work.
In a brief moment of exuberance that you don’t see very often, O’Brien flipped his bat, before trotting down the first base line.
“It’s kind of fun,” he said. “It gets the dugout rolling and gave us a little momentum.”
His home run put Eau Claire Pizza Hut/Post 53 up seven, and it gave the team a lead that was more than enough to take down the Green Bay Post 11 Shockers 13-4 on Saturday afternoon in the Carson Park-based River City Classic.
O’Brien is coming off a spectacular senior season at Eau Claire North. He hit .382 with an OPS of 1.110, good for the third highest in a loaded Huskies lineup.
His third-inning home run came as part of a four-run inning for Eau Claire. It cashed in Jackson Falkner and Jonah Wiggins who reached on a pair of singles, giving Pizza Hut a comfortable lead.
It was, however, tested a half inning later.
Eau Claire’s coach Mark Faanes made a pitching change to open the fourth, pulling starter Mitch Voller of Eau Claire Memorial from the game. Voller allowed just two runs while striking out four through the first three innings.
North’s Jaxon Vance entered and walked three batters before giving up a two-run single, but he avoided catastrophe, keeping Eau Claire up five.
“Our starting pitcher struggled a bit,” Faanes said. “We’re deep on the mound… and generally we can hit. … Today I just thought we went through the motions.”
Offensively, Pizza Hut was relentless. They started the game with a bat-around first inning, cashing in five runs while forcing Green Bay to make an early pitching change. Former Old Abe and soon-to-be Winona State Warrior Cooper Kapanke did the majority of the damage, sending a line drive into the left-center field gap for a two-run double.
“One through nine everyone chips in every game,” O’Brien said. “Everyone here plays at a high level so when we get that all together, we’re a really good team.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Eau Claire loaded the bases again, but only mustered a single run, when Falkner squeaked a RBI single down the third-base line to cash in former Old Abe Connor Stoik.
The game came to a close in the fifth inning when Kapanke pulled another two-run double into the left-center field gap to walk-off Green Bay with an eight-run mercy.
And yet, the offensive outburst wasn’t enough to impress Faanes.
“I thought we were sluggish that game,” he said. “We hit a lot of lazy fly balls. We need to do better than that at the plate.”
The Pizza Huts/Post 53s return to action at 8 p.m. to take on the Marshfield Post 54s at Carson Park.
Eau Claire 13, Green Bay 4
Green Bay 020 20 — 4 3 0
Eau Claire 504 13 — 13 9 0
WP: Mitch Voller (3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K). LP: Liam Jones (0.2 IP, 2 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 0 K).
Leading hitters — Eau Claire: Gabe O’Brien 1-2 (3 R, 3 RBI, SB, HR, 2 BB), Connor Stoik 0-1 (3 R, 3 BB), Connor Kapanke 2-2 (2 R, 4 RBI, 2B, 2 BB), Jackson Falkner 2-3 (R, RBI); Jonah Wiggins 1-1 (R, RBI, 2 BB, SB).