On arguably the franchise's biggest night, it was arguably the face of the franchise that provided its most memorable moment to date. Tim Huber (Omaha) worked out of early trouble, throwing 7 2/3 solid innings in leading the Eau Claire Express to a 4-2 win over the Madison Mallards before 7,496 fans at Warner Park on Saturday night.
The victory clinches the South Division second half championship for the Express (41-26 overall, 24-9) who will now face the Green Bay Bullfrogs in the South Division playoffs starting on Monday. It concludes a rollercoaster ride for the last month that saw four teams battle for the top spot.
In fitting fashion, it would take yet another comeback for the Express to pull out the victory, scoring four unanswered runs to overtake Madison.
The Mallards -one of the hottest teams in the Northwoods League at the plate - got to starter Tim Huber in the first inning on two out hits by Evan LeBlanc and Bobby Hubbard and seemed poised to force a winner take all matchup during Sunday's regular season finale.
However, the Express rallied back versus Madison starter Jim Sajewich with a two-out RBI double in the third inning by Bryce Nimmo (Nebraska) and a leadoff homer by NWL co-MVP Kole Calhoun (Yavapai) in the fourth.
The game was likely decided in the bottom of the fourth, as Madison loaded the bases with no outs. While the Mallards were on the verge of tipping the scales in their fashion, it only served as a recipe for the Express to took full control of the momentum.
Huber bore down and struck out Matt Behren. He then induced Ryan Tinkman to hit a grounder to third base Ian Hollick (New Mexico) who fired home for the first out, where catcher Jacob Jefferies (UC-Davis) spun and relayed to first base to complete the inning-ending double play.
Madison never had another great scoring chance off of either Huber, or Jon Ganzen (Bellevue) who relieved him for the final four outs.
Eau Claire took the lead for good in the sixth, off Madison releiver Travis Sweet.
With two outs and runners at the corners, David Cales (Illinois-Chicago) lined a triple to right center to give the Express a 4-2 lead that they never relinquished.
It was also Cales who fielded the final out in the ninth, making the throw to first basemen Justin Uribe (UCLA) igniting a subdued celebration that included plenty of hugs, high fives and prolonged conversations on the field but nothing too extreme.
Notes: Jacob Jefferies extended his franchise record hitting streak to 15 games...Madison's Jordan Comadena is on a 48 game on base streak