By Cooper Perkins
Eau Claire, Wis. – For the second time on Wednesday, Carson Park was the site for a meeting between the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (20-10) and the Eau Claire Express (20-10). After dropping a 5-3 decision to the Express in the afternoon cap of Wednesday’s double header, the Rafters responded to strike early in an 8-4 win, salvaging a series split.
In his first start of the summer, Damien Richard (Xavier) dazzled for six innings, allowing only a pair of runs in the fourth inning. At the night’s end, Richard had posted eight strikeouts, matching the highest total of any Rafter starter this season. Additionally, the right-hander allowed just seven hits and a walk in route to lowering his ERA to 3.38 and earning his first win as a Rafter.
Matters were far less pleasant for Express starter Michael Gomez, who became the third pitcher this week to exceed 35 pitches in a single inning against the Rafters. After crossing the outlined threshold, Gomez was prohibited from returning to the mound for the second inning. In his lone inning of work, Gomez was tagged for four runs on five hits and a walk, striking out a pair and taking the loss for Eau Claire.
The scoring opened in the top of the first inning when the Rafters sent Joe Wainhouse (Washington) to the plate with one out and runners on first and second. Wainhouse, who finished the night 2-for-5 with three runs bated in, tore a two-run double down the right field line, just inside the first base bag. After a Rob Calabrese (Illinois-Chicago) single pushed Wainhouse to third and put runners on the corners, the Rafters’ catcher swiped second base. With runners on second and third, Logan Mattix (Georgia College) smacked a two-run single and doubled the Rafter lead to 4-0 after half an inning.
After a quiet second inning, the Rafters added a run in the top of the third. With two outs and the bases clear, Joey Morgan (Washington) belted a home run over the left field wall, his third of the season, to push the Rafter lead to 5-0. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Eau Claire stiffened to offer their first pushback of the evening thanks to a lead off home run from Alex McKenna and a two-out single by Daniel Hererra to score Kyle Marinconz and cut the Rafter lead to 5-2 after four innings.
With momentum beginning to shift towards the Express, the Rafters looked for a response in the top of the fifth. Jake Lumley (Canisius) and Patrick Cromwell (Clemson) began the inning with singles before Wainhouse delivered again, singling home a run. The next batter, Rob Calabrese, lined a pitch to left field only to watch as Zach Alford dropped the ball and allowed an additional run to score. The final run of the fifth would come across when the subsequent hitter, Logan Mattix, bounced out on the infield and allowed Wainhouse to extend the lead to 8-2.
The Rafters coasted through the next three innings, until the Express forced reliever Nick Belzer (Hawaii) into a difficult situation as a result of consecutive walks. Daniel Herrera lined a double to the right field corner and plated a pair for the Express, cutting the Rafter lead to 8-4 after eight innings. In the ninth, Wainhouse would take to the mound and strike out the side in order to end the game and clinch a season-high in strikeouts for the Rafters as a pitching staff (15), exceeding their previous hight of 13 on June 1.
The Rafters return home Thursday for the front end of a two-game series with the Green Bay Bullfrogs. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. with gates opening to the public at 6:05 p.m.
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