WATERLOO - The Waterloo Bucks put in 28 grueling days on the diamond without a break.
On Sunday, at Riverfront Stadium, the Bucks (15-13) held on for a 7-6 thriller against the Eau Claire Express and will have today off to take in what they have accomplished.
The major achievement has been capturing first place in the Great Plains East division of the Northwoods League, as they put some distance between themselves and the Express (13-15) and the Lacrosse Loggers (13-15) who lost on Sunday as well.
"It is going to be nice to get a day off," said Bucks manager Casey Harms. "Anytime you get a day off it is nice. We have endured a lot of weather delays, road games, extra innings and had to deal with a lot of adversity. We need a day off."
It was not an easy task getting through Sunday's contest as the Express opened up with a pair of runs in the first inning, putting the Bucks in a corner early.
The top of the batting order came through with some timely hits and aggressive base running.
Patrick Ferguson started the inning with a single, followed by Blake Berry and Bennett Hostetler finding the perfect gap between second and short to load the bases. Dylan Phillips singled in Ferguson and Alex Ronnebaum drove a deep ball to center field that plated Berry.
Ferguson put the Bucks in the lead in the second frame as he jammed a solo home run deep over the center field wall. Ferguson struck again in the fourth inning as he drove in Bryce Wooldridge with his second home run, in the exact spot he hit his first one, and the Bucks were up 7-3.
The two blasts were Ferguson's third and fourth of th eseason.
"We had a good plan coming into this game and we all stuck to it," said Ferguson.. "I wasn't really feeling that good about my at bats and maybe it's the dog days of summer, but I just went up to put the bat on the ball. The guys in front of me did a great job of getting on and we saw the rewards of hitting the ball hard."
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Before Ferguson's second shot, Wooldridge had laced a hard single to right that brought in R.J. Teijeiro and Matt Campos.
"I thought Matt Campos had a great day at the plate," added Ferguson. "He took the pitcher to 10 or 12 pitches and help wear him down. Actually everyone had a good day hitting." Only two Bucks went the day without a hit.
With the Bucks holding a 7-3 edge, it would be up to the defense to shut down the powerful Express.
The Bucks labored but succeeded in putting the Express hitters away until the seventh frame, when the Express fired up again. Two walks and an error loaded the bases with one out, and the Express came away with two runs closing the gap to 7-5.
Another Express runner scored in the eighth and suddenly the Bucks were in a sticky situation.
Junior pitcher, Alec Holcomb, from North Dakota State, got the call in the ninth to stop the Express. Holcomb quickly put down the first two batters he faced, then walked the number nine hitter, before inducing a ground ball to second by Spencer Myers to end the game.
"You know we have been hitting the ball hard over the past ten days or so and getting better pitching," said Harms. "We just faced probably the best arms in the league with these guys and our guys showed the maturity that is needed to hit them. Our park is a very pitcher friendly park and this crew did a great job facing their arms and getting the hits. Now we get a much needed day off to rest some arms, and have a little fun."
Sunday's starter was Drew Irvine, whose father Mike starred locally at Waterloo West as a pitcher and was part of the 1991 Class 4A state championship team and later then with Northern Iowa, who played all its home games at Riverfront Stadium.
Irvine, from Waukee and now pitches for Iowa, made his third start and fifth appearance for the Bucks lasting four innings, allowing six hits and three runs while striking out two and walking two.
After the break, the Bucks have a single home game versus the Lacrosse Tuesday, before beginning a seven-day road trip.