Eau Claire’s pitcher Travis Berg is batting only because the Express are short players.
On Wednesday, Berg had two hits, including a double, scored a run and stole home. Oh, and he pitched seven grind-it-out innings to beat the Bismarck Larks 8-3 to split their Northwoods League series at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark.
“It was great. I love the opportunity to hit,” said the right-hander from Minnesota-Duluth. “I don’t have the opportunity in college, so I always take advantage of that. It was a lot of fun.”
On the mound, Berg gave up three hits and three earned runs. He struck out five but walked six. And he got the win.
“At the start I couldn’t locate any of my pitches,” Berg said. “I just tried to get ground balls and trust my defense.”
One night after a stellar pitching duel in a 2-1 Bismarck win, the five Larks pitchers in this one combined for 10 walks and two Larks errors led directly to runs.
Four of the Express’ eight runs reached by walk, as did two of Bismarck’s three.
“Alex Ross gave us some good innings there,” Bismarck coach Sean Repay said. “His pitch count was up. As a team, we walked 10. That’s the difference between making it a one-run ballgame and a five-run game.”
The Larks burned through five pitchers, including Parker Harm, who took the loss after a four-run fifth inning that turned a 3-2 lead into a 6-3 deficit.
Bismarck jumped on Berg for one run in each of the first three innings.
The Larks went up 1-0 in the first without the benefit of a hit. David Salguiero led off the first with a walk and stole second. He went to third on Spencer Gillund’s groundout and scored on Noah Sadler’s fly ball to left.
Luke Waldek doubled home Hunter Wilcher in the second inning and Noah Sadler doubled in Gillund with two outs in the third to make it 3-0.
Eau Claire got back into the game in the fourth with two unearned runs. An error by Waldek followed by a sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly and an infield single led to two runs.
The Express tied the game against reliever Harm, who walked the first two batters he faced and threw a sacrifice bunt by Taylor Field wild to first, the error allowing the tying run to score.
Unlike Ryan Byrd in the opener, Larks pitchers struggled with their control. Ross walked four in four innings and Harm walked three and gave up four runs in one-third of an inning.
By the time Connor Hilburn came on in relief of Harm, the Larks trailed 6-3, even though the Express had just one hit in the four-run inning. Hilburn struck out the two batters he faced in the fifth to end the rally.
Berg settled down as the game wore on. He walked four batters in the first three innings and two scored.
“We just weren’t consistent at the plate. I thought guys were a little jumpy tonight,” Repay said.
Austin George and Victor Chavez finished up with two-hit relief for the Express.
Waldek doubled twice and drove in a run in four at-bats for the Larks, who play host to Thunder Bay in the first game of a two-game series tonight.