Courtesy: Doug Raftery
The Express are playing better much better baseball. Unfortunately, it didn't result in a win on Thursday night in Wausau, Wis., as the Woodchucks defeated Eau Claire 5-4 on a walk-off sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth.
Express starter Matt Trowbridge, who received a no-decision in five and a third innings of work, retired the first 10 he faced in a row, five via strikeouts. He had a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fourth due to Eau Claire's Josh Scheffert knocking in Ty Forney on an RBI double to dead center field in the third.
Batter number 11 of the game for the Woodchucks, Brad McKewon, singled to break up the hitless streak, advanced to second on a Trowbridge wild pitch, and scored on Brendon Hayden's first RBI single of the night.
With the score tied at one, Trowbridge quickly put down the first two he faced in the bottom of the fifth. But a seemingly quick inning for Trowbridge rapidly derailed. After a two-out single by Eric Filia-Snyder, Trowbridge lost control of a fastball up-and-in that hit Brandon Cogswell in the head. Cogswell had to exit the game and Trowbridge wasn't the same afterwards. With runners occupying first and second, he walked the next two batters, the second with the bases loaded, to give the Woodchucks a 2-1 lead. Hayden came through again with ducks on the pond to drive in two more and hand Wisconsin a 4-1 lead after five.
The Eau Claire offense, which broke out last night for a season-high 11 runs, wouldn't go away quietly against Woodchucks starter Austin Pettibone. Ty Forney and Josh Scheffert led the sixth off with consecutive doubles, cutting the deficit to two. After Scheffert advanced to third with one out, Will Fadness, in his first nine inning game since Opening Night, bounced an RBI groundout to second to drive in the second run of the inning. Eau Claire, then down 4-3 with two outs, got a big fly from Alex Real on a fastball right down the pipe by Pettibone, his third homer of the season to tie the game up at four apiece.
Eau Claire had the go-ahead run at second in the seventh and ninth innings, but couldn't come through, and the Woodchucks capitalized against Bryan Crabb in the ninth. Crabb, who came in to replace Trowbridge in the sixth, worked two and two-third scoreless innings heading to the bottom of the ninth. However, his command ended up deceiving him.
Mike Bernal hit a routine grounder to third that Jimmy Allen fielded cleanly, but he ended up overthrewing first. Bernal headed for second base, but was caught there for the first out. The Express seemed to wipe sweat off of the foreheads, but then Crabb lost control. He walked Brooks Braga on a full-count pitch with one out, and then McKewon on four straight balls. With Hayden up to the plate behind 0-2, Crabb threw a wild pitch that allowed the runners to advance. It ended up costing him, as Hayden lifted a fly ball to medium center field that was caught by Ryan Shober, but his throw was wide of home and Braga came home to score the winning run.
Eau Claire looks to keep playing good baseball and attempts to take the middle game of this three-game set that continues until Saturday with the Woodchucks. Philip Walby (2-1, 2.86) toes the rubber for the Express at 6:35 p.m. at Athletic Field.