(EauClaireExpress.com)-There are times when you simply have to tip your cap to a flawless opponent.
Saturday night was one of those times for the Eau Claire Express after suffering a 5-1 loss at the hands of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in front of 1,702 people at an overcast Carson Park.
Rafters' starter John Kravetz, who came into the game with a 0.83 ERA, pitched a gem of a ballgame, going seven strong innings while striking out seven, scattering seven hits, giving up one run and issuing no walks.
Field Manager Dale Varsho didn't see anything terribly wrong with the way Express played, he just thought Kravetz simply pitched a great game.
"It was a tribute to their pitching staff," Varsho said. "They really made us roll over and that sinker that he (Kravetz) throws just makes us hit those little ground balls. There wasn't a lot of balls lifted and if it was lifted,it was a little blooper. So nothing in the air was hit hard. It was really a tribute to their pitcher."
On the other side of things, the Express got a solid start from their starter, as well. Alec Crawford, who had been struggling coming into tonight's game, got in a little bit of trouble in the second inning in which he gave up three runs, but other than that, he pitched his best game of the year by far.
He threw eight innings, the most by an Express starter all season long, and he struck out seven while also issuing no walks. He made through eight innings on just 88 pitches, and Varsho was thoroughly pleased by his start.
"Alec pitched like he could have all year for us," Varsho said. "Overall, he pitched great."
Crawford said he felt good on the mound and was very complimentary to his catcher for calling the pitches.
"Zim (catcher Parker Zimmerman) called a great game and I had all four pitches working," Crawford said. "I wish I had a couple of pitches back, but overall I thought it was a good outing."
After giving up a solo home run in the second off the bat of Jackson Slaid, Crawford ran himself into a little bit of trouble in the third inning when he loaded the bases with no outs. He only allowed three runs, however, and got a big double play ball to help him escape the inning with minimal damage. The Rafters got another solo home run in the top of the fourth, this time from Erik Payne.
Crawford said that while he fell behind in the count on those two hitters with the home runs, he thought he threw good pitches and he simply had to credit Slaid and Payne for their respective at-bats.
"I tried to put it on the outside corner, he (Slaid) hit it to right-center, a good piece of hitting," Crawford said. "I tried to get it on the inside corner with the next guy (Payne) and he put it into left-center. Those were great pieces of hitting. I fell behind and you can't do much about it when they put good swings on it."
Kravetz, who improved his record to 3-0 in three starts with his win tonight, held the Express bats quiet all night long. The only Eau Claire run came on a Chane Lynch RBI groundout that scored Greg Harisis in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Express infielder Sam Haggerty left the game in the bottom of the third inning after aggrevating a bruised heel he suffered earlier in the week. Varsho said he just needs some rest and there is no timetable on his return.
Utility man Tim Zier did extend his hitting streak to nine games with a single in the bottom of the sixth tonight.
The Express will turn the ball over to Taylor Lehnert, who is coming off a performance that saw him go seven innings and give up just one run for the win on Monday night, tomorrow evening as Eau Claire looks to take the rubber match against these Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. First pitch is set for 5:05 p.m. All aboard.