EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Northwoods League) The Express (23-12 Second Half, 38-33 Overall) were shutout by the St. Cloud Rox (17-18 Second Half, 42-29 Overall) at Carson Park Saturday night.
While Eau Claire received a fantastic performance from starter Caleb Willems (UW La Crosse) (2-1), St. Cloud’s Jake Stevenson (Minnesota) (2-1) was just a notch better; stifling the Express bats over eight spectacular frames of work. Stevenson struck out eight while walking none, allowing just four Express batters to reach base on three base knocks and a hit by pitch.
Although he was outdueled by Stevenson, Willems put together a phenomenal effort of his own in his first start of the season with Eau Claire, tossing six innings of one-run ball in an unfortunate loss. The sophomore struck out six and walked one, surrendering the only run of the night in the top of the first on an RBI single by St. Cloud right fielder Keaton Kringlen (BYU).
Express shortstop Josh Norlin (Dallas Baptist) was responsible for three of Eau Claire’s total of four base hits in the game, with center fielder Daytona Bryden (UW Whitewater) and third baseman Trevor Schwecke (UW Milwaukee) being the only other Express batsmen to find their way aboard.
Even with the loss, Eau Claire still controls their own destiny in the North Division Second Half Championship hunt, as they just need to win tomorrow’s battle with the Rox in order to clinch the second half divisional title.
However, should the Mankato MoonDogs fall victorious in either of their final two regular season games, an Express loss tomorrow would eliminate Eau Claire from playoff contention.
Tomorrow’s must-win showdown with St. Cloud is scheduled to begin at 5:05 PM at Carson Park, with 2016-returner, Dalton Roach (Minnesota Mankato) making a spot start for the Express in his first appearance with the team this season.
In two starts with Eau Claire last season, the right-handed throwing roach ran a 0.64 ERA over 14 innings pitched. Uneligible for the playoffs due to his late arrival, this will be the only start of the year with the Express for Roach should the team advance to the postseason tomorrow.