Leading 6-3 heading into the top of the ninth at Ross Wells Park, the Express ran into some sudden difficulties both in the field and on the mound as the Melville Millionaires sent two runs across the plate and eventually loaded the bases with two out.
That’s where veteran catcher Chris Warken stepped up, picking up a Nathan Slobodian pitch that skipped just to his right and after Melville’s Evan Moore tried to score from third on the miscue, gunning the ball to Geordie McDougall to tag Moore as he dove back to the base and bring the game to an end.
“It wasn’t the way we drew it up, that’s for sure,” said Express coach Rich Sorenson. “It was kind of funny because I heard a guy in the stands when I walking down to the bullpen go ‘great game, coach’ and I was like ‘this game isn’t over yet, it’s only the top of the ninth.’ That’s why we play nine innings. There’s 27 outs and every one of them is precious.
“But (closer) Nathan (Slobodian) did a pretty good job, it might have been a little closer that we’d have liked it, but he got the job done.”
Slobodian gave up the two runs, only one earned after a pair of errors extended the inning. He picked up the save after striking out two to go along with two walks and two hits.
The interesting ninth capped off an otherwise nearly flawless game for Express as they played errorless ball in the field and rode a series of solid pitching performances to hold the Mills in check.
Blake Gallagher got things started and was as advertised, tossing three innings and giving up just one hit while striking out five.
“I think it kind of shocked him that I asked him to start, but he was our leader from last year and he set the tone for us,” Sorensen said. “He threw three scoreless innings and probably could have gone more, but it’s a little too early to go that way. But you could just tell he’s just a gamer, he was just ‘give me the ball.'”
Nick Falco tossed 2 1/3 innings, giving up three runs on four walks and a hit before giving way to Jack Gamba, who took things to the ninth and only surrendered a trio of hits while striking out four.
“He came in to me in the seventh inning and said ‘coach, I’m gassed’ and I looked at him and asked ‘you have one out for me?’ and he said he had one out,” Sorensen said. “Then he went the whole inning and that really saved us because it’s hard to go with your closer for two innings, especially this early in the season.”
On the other side of the ball, Michael Borst went 2-for-4 with an RBI while returning veteran Eric Marriott went 1-for-2 with a walk and two runs scored. Warken also got into the action offensively, knocking in a pair of runs while going 1-for-4.
But the big hit of the night belonged to McDougall, who belted a two-run home run as part of a three-run fifth inning that put the Express ahead 6-0.
“I’m just feeling good, taking some good swing and trying to get some pitches to hit,” McDougall said of his success at the plate. “We have a pretty good line-up… I think we’re going to swing it really well every day, our pitchers are going to give us a chance to win and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Sorensen was happy with what he saw from the offence for the most part, but would have liked to have seen better execution at key times.
“It was getting to that point where we weren’t swinging it too well, and I was thinking about either hit-and-run or bunting Geordie, and lo and behold the baseball gods come in and he hits one over the scoreboard. So sometimes you’re better off not doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” he said with a laugh.
“One thing is, a lot of the guys aren’t used to bunting, but you could see how important to us it was to get that bunt down and we didn’t do it. We have to execute, and that’s what these guys are going to have to buy in to. Sometimes the home run doesn’t do it, it’s getting that bunt down…in that eighth inning we had first and second and no outs and didn’t get that bunt down and it could have cost us.”
The Express are right back in action tonight when they travel to Swift Current before returning home Friday to face the 57’s and a pair of games at Ross Wells against the Yorkton Cardinals on Saturday and Sunday (4 p.m. start).