EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — One game stood in the way of Willmar making the Northwoods League championship game for the first time in the team’s 10-year existence.
But, Eau Claire’s pitching had other plans.
Playing in the Great Plains Division championship game on Wednesday, the Stingers managed just one hit as the Express moved onto the championship with a 2-0 victory.
Willmar’s best opportunity came in the opening frame as the team loaded the bases with one out in the top of the first inning. But, Eau Claire pitcher Andrew Tri struck out Justin King and coaxed a pop fly out of Daniel Walsh to end the Stingers’ threat.
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth. Zach Gilles reached first base with a walk, then made it to third on a Matt Bottcher single. And thanks to a wild pitch from Willmar’s Trevor Divinski, Gilles plated the game’s first run.
The Express scored again in the bottom of the sixth on an RBI single up the middle from Connor Laspina. A third run was on its way to scoring before being thrown out at the plate for the final out.
It would take until the top of the seventh for Willmar to get its first hit with a one-out single by Sam Baier. Any threat by Baier ended quickly as he was thrown out on a fielder’s choice.
Peyton Sherlin locked down any hope of a Stingers comeback by throwing consecutive three-and-out innings to get the save.
Tri threw three hitless innings, striking out five while walking four. Jack Brown got the win after four scoreless innings where he gave up the one hit and one walk with one strikeout.
Divinski was hit with the loss despite allowing just four hits and one walk with three strikeouts over five innings of work.
With the victory, Eau Claire will play in the Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series at 7:05 p.m. Friday on the road against the Great Lakes Division champion Traverse City. The Pit Spitters clinched the Great Lakes with a 3-2 win over Madison on Wednesday.
Willmar ends the 2019 season with a 42-33 record to go with the Great Plains West sub-division title and the West’s first-half championship.