The Eau Claire Express blew open a close game late on Saturday, scoring four times in the ninth on their way to a 9-2 Northwoods League win over the Bismarck Larks.
Leading 5-2 thanks to the work of starter and winner Ryan Zimmerman and two relievers, the Express ran wild in the ninth.
“We’re a pretty fast team and we’re aggressive on the bases,” Eau Claire manager Dale Varsho said. “They’re on their own. They like to run and they like to play.”
Things fell apart for the Larks after they scored one in the eighth.
The Express scored four times without a hit in the inning, thanks to some aggressive base-running and mistakes by the Larks.
The inning included three walks, a hit batsman, five stolen bases, a passed ball, a wild pitch and a mental mistake that allowed a run to score from second on a groundout to the pitcher.
Larks reliever David Manasek fielded a ground ball and outran the batter to first. But he appeared to forget about the runner while taking several steps toward the outfield and by the time he turned and threw home, it was too late.
“Our game is running and taking extra bases whenever we can,” said Eau Claire leadoff man and centerfielder Zach Gilles.
Gilles had two hits and scored three runs. No. two hitter Zach Ashford had two hits and scored two runs and No. 3 hitter Kyle Marinconz was 3-for-5 with two runs batted in.
In addition, Daytona Bryden, the ninth hitter in the Express order, scored three times.
Bismarck starter and loser Carson Selin worked 7.2 innings. He scattered 11 hits, seven of those by the top three batters in the Eau Claire lineup.
In just his second start of the season, Selin struck out four and did not allow a walk.
“Carson did a really good job. He pitched very well,” said Bismarck manager Sean Repay, whose team had a four-game winning streak snapped. “It happens. We can’t win them all. We’ll come back.”
Eau Claire starter and winner Ryan Zimmerman pitched six innings and left with a 5-1 lead after reaching the league-mandated 100-pitch limit. He gave up six hits and struck out six.
Josh Gaworski, the second of Eau Claire’s three relievers, worked himself into a jam in the eighth, then worked himself out of it with the help of centerfielder Gilles.
After loading the bases with no outs, Gaworski got Wyatt Ulrich to fly out to left. Quinn Irey then hammered a ball deep to left-center. Gilles ran it down in the gap against the wall and Ryan Anderson, who had two hits in the game, scored the Larks’ only run of the inning.
“I got a good jump on it, but at first I didn’t think I could get to it,” Gilles said.
Ulrich singled to center with one out in the second inning and scored on Cooper Coldiron’s two-out single for a 1-0 lead.
But the Express answered with three runs in the third. Bryden was hit by a pitch and Gilles, Ashford and Marinconz followed with singles. Bryden scored on Ashford’s single, Gilles on Marinconz’s and Ashford on Tyrus Greene’s groundout for a 3-1 lead.
Bryden and Gilles each scored again in Eau Claire’s two-run fifth. Gilles and Marinconz each drove in runs to extend the lead to 5-1.
Manasek came on and threw one pitch in the eighth in relief of Selin. He went 1.1 hitless innings, but walked three and hit a batter.
Anderson, Coldiron and Waldek had two hits apiece for the Larks, who are 8-7 in the second half and 24-26 overall. The Express are 8-7 in the second half and 23-28 overall.
The teams play the final game of the series today at 3:05 p.m.