WATERLOO — Waterloo has already seen plenty of Eau Claire this Northwoods League baseball season and will see more of the Express when they meet in the opening round of the Northwoods League playoffs.
Sunday at Riverfront Stadium, the Bucks and their fans saw something they likely had never seen when Patrick Ferguson played all nine positions during an 11-7 loss to Eau Claire in the regular-season finale.
“It was kind of something I joked about with Coach (Casey) Harms earlier in the year,” said Ferguson. “I was just kidding around and asked him if we did win the first half, I thought it would be fun to be able to play all the positions as long as we were in.
“We were just going out today to enjoy ourselves and work on getting ready for the playoffs. It was a lot of fun.”
With Ferguson bouncing around the field at Riverfront, the Express (40-30, 21-13) rapped out 15 hits and 11 runs as they secured the second-half Great Plains Division title. They will stay in Waterloo for game one of the best-of-three first-round series Monday.
The Bucks (34-35, 14-20) struggled early to get a hit as they sent nine players to the plate without a single baserunner in the first three innings. They were in a 6-0 hole before they collected their first hit.
Kyler Arenado walked to begin the bottom of the fifth. Mike Nyisztor and Dylan Phillips followed with singles. Phillips’ shot scored Arenado, and Kevin Blum roped a deep single that plated Nyisztor and Phillips. The Bucks got no closer.
The Express answered with three runs of their own in the top of the sixth.
“I’ve said it before, but by wrapping up the first half, the second half of the season has been kind of weird,” said Harms. “We have had a lot of guys come through and it has been a great experience for those players and us as coaches. We have had guys come in here from all over, even Hawaii. They have come from the East Coast and West Coast and everywhere in between.
“It has given them a great opportunity to compete and they earned the right to play in the postseason, something that has not happened here since 2013. Now we need to have the guys ready for the bright lights of the postseason and ready to go for five more games.
“It was fun to have Patrick play all those spots on a special day for him. He is a great player and a great story teller and he will have a story to tell now.”
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The highlight for Ferguson came in the eighth inning when he took the mound.
Ferguson threw just five pitches, getting all three batters he faced to pop out.
“I enjoyed everything but maybe the catcher’s spot,” smiled Ferguson. “That was hard. I would have to say pitching was fun although I have pitched in other games this year. But getting three outs that quick, that was a highlight. I was surprised they didn’t hit the ball at me more often as I was moving around. If they were smart they would have hit it at me and gotten more guys on base.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do yet,” continued Ferguson. “We just have to go out there now and play our best defense and get the hits when we need them.”
The Bucks made a game of it late as they punched three more runs across in the eighth frame to cut the deficit to 9-7. Nyisztor came up with a two-run single for his second hit of the game.
Eau Claire responded again with two runs in the ninth to set the final margin.
NOTES: The first 250 fans through the gates at Riverfront Monday night for Game One of the first-round playoff series receive a free ball cap. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Eau Claire 11, Waterloo 7
Eau Claire 104 103 002 — 11 15 1
Waterloo 000 030 130 — 7 9 2
Cody Daniels, Wyatt Stute (8), David LaManna (8) and Vincent Martinez. Colin Lacey, Joey Cardamon (4), Patrick Ferguson (8), Kyler Arenado (9), Ethan Copeland (9) and Jake Christianson. WP — Daniels (1-0). LP — Lacey (0-1). 2B — LaManna (EC), Kevin Blum (W), Dylan Phillips (W), Arenado (W), Mike Nyisztor (W).