With 6,727 fans in attendance, pitcher Rusty Shellhorn, who threw a no-hitter in his last start, took the mound for the Madison Mallards on Saturday night, as they defeated the Eau Claire Express 7-4 for their second straight win. However, the win didn’t come easy. 

Shellhorn got himself into a bind early on by loading the bases with two outs. However, he was able to strike out Express outfielder Lucas Herbst, escaping the inning. The Mallards offense picked up where it left off the previous night, coming off a three home run 7-0 victory over the Express. 

Unlike Shellhorn, Express pitcher Brad Goldberg was not able to escape the first inning without giving up a run. After striking out shortstop Josh Parr, Goldberg gave up three straight hits to load the bases. With only one out, infielder Reed Gragnani crossed home plate after an RBI fielder’s choice to right field by catcher Rafael Lopez. One batter later, Goldberg threw a wild pitch to Mallards outfielder Lucas LeBlanc. The pitch advanced Lopez from first to third, and scored outfielder Kyle Gaedele, giving the Mallards a 2-0 lead. Two pitches later, LeBlanc hit an RBI single, scoring Lopez and giving the Mallards a 3-0 lead heading into the second inning.

The second and third innings were routine for the Mallards and the Express. Both pitchers failed to give up a hit in either inning, keeping the Mallards lead at 3-0 headed into the fourth inning. In the top of the fourth, the Express were able to pick up a run on infielder Andy Leonard’s RBI single, cutting the Mallards lead to 3-1. With bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth, Parr and Gragnani hit back-to-back RBI singles to give the Mallards a convincing 5-1 lead.

“The middle of our line-up has been good all series long,” manager C.J. Thieleke said. “It’s good to get the guys in the three, four, and five-spots swinging the bats well.” 

In the top of the fifth inning, two straight errors by the Mallards lead to an unearned run by Express infielder Drew Heithoff, which put the score at 5-2 in favor of the Mallards. With runners on first and second, Shellhorn hit Herbst with a pitch, loading the bases for the Express. This would be the last pitch by Shellhorn, as he was pulled in favor of reliever Ryan Gorton. Shellhorn finished with 4.1 innings pitched, giving up four hits, two runs, and striking out one batter. As Gorton took the mound with one out, the Mallards were faced with an all-too-familiar situation of bases loaded. However, Gorton did his best first-inning Shellhorn impression by recording two straight outs to escape the inning. 

“[Eau Claire] started to build some momentum and I just came in trying to limit the damage,” Gorton said. “I was able to get a key strikeout, followed by the pop-out to end the inning.”

The Mallards were able to put two more runs on the board in the bottom of the seventh inning, thanks to Lopez, who hit an RBI double and eventually scored an unearned run off an error by Express shortstop Ty Forney. In a game that had a combined 20 hits, Lopez’s double was one of only two extra base hits by either team. 

In the top of the ninth inning, the Express gave the Mallards a bit of a scare. An RBI double by infielder Josh Scheffert and an RBI single by catcher Will Fadness, pulled the Express within three of the Mallards 7-4. However, in fitting fashion, Leonard struck out, leaving a runner on first base. The Express finished the game by leaving a total of 14 runners on base.

“Our gameplan was to just throw good pitches,” Thieleke said. “We wanted to force them to put the ball in the air, especially on a night where the wind was blowing in. The ball really wasn’t carrying out there.” 

Gorton picked up the win for Mallards, his second of the season. With the win, the Mallards move to 18-11 during the second-half, and sit only a half game back from the Green Bay Bullfrogs for second place in the Northwoods League.