Wilson powers Express past Dodgers in series finale


Sometime in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s series finale between the Express and Oklahoma City Dodgers, the spirit or Ric Flair made an appearance.

The crowd, smaller due to rain that tossed Central Texas earlier in the day, reacted to nearly every action on the field with the Nature Boy’s famous ‘Wooo!’ taunt. Either they were trying to stay involved or excited the Express snapped a three-game skid with a 3-1 win.

“You look at a season and streaks like this are pretty normal,” catcher Brett Nicholas said. “A win does nothing but build confidence. We were close the last few games and they’re the ones that got the big hits so it was nice to be on the other side of things.”

Allan Webster (2-2, 6.34 ERA) earned his second win of the year, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts. Preston Claiborne came in for the ninth inning and give up two hits with three strikeouts to earn his fourth save of the season.

Nicholas led the way offensively, finishing 2-for-3 with one RBI and two runs scored. Josh Wilson had the both two RBIs on a two-run home run and extended his hitting streak to seven games.

“(Wilson) has a ton of experience and is a guy that is great in the clubhouse,” Express manager Jason Wood said. “His highs and lows are very minimal. He’s the guy you need out there each night to help out. It’s nice to see what he’s doing at the plate, a little lower in the lineup, but he’s getting his hits.”

Oklahoma City opened the scoring in the second inning, scoring on a double steal. A.J. Jimenez threw out the runner at second base, but one run came around to score to put the Express in an early hole.

But Brett Nicholas doubled on a line drive to left field and Wilson followed that with a two-run home run to left field. It was his third home run of the season and the 96th of his minor league career.

Not to be outdone, Nicholas blasted a home run of his own on a solo shot to right field in the bottom of the seventh inning to push the Round Rock lead to 3-1.

Before Tuesday night, Round Rock had lost nine of 11 games due in part to the need to play young players out of position. Elio Castillo, normally an infielder, played in right field on Monday night and saw a fly ball fall after a miscommunication with Wilson.

“It does create an interesting dynamic when you have guys that aren’t used to playing everywhere,” Wilson said. “Guys that are in the right positions might need to step up a little bit. You kind of get used to the guys you’re playing with.”

One place where the Express are deeper than maybe any team in the league is at catcher. They carry three on the current roster in Nicholas, A.J. Jimenez, and Brett Hays. Earlier this month, Patrick Cantwell was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

When one is catching, another is usually the designated hitter and the third is on the bench and Nicholas has occasionally played at first base. No matter the order, they produced on Tuesday as Nicholas hit a home run and Jimenez threw out two runners trying to steal second.

“The competition picks each other up because you’ve got to make sure you’re performing at your best because they’re trying to do the same thing,” Nicholas said. “Having more is better. Unfortunately, that means sometimes there’s not enough playing time to go around.

“We understand and all three of us have been around long enough that when it’s our turn we’re ready to go.”

The Express begin an eight-game road trip Thursday in Tacoma against the Rainiers before playing four games on the road against the Reno Aces. They return home on May 19 against the Salt Lake Bees.

“You can walk in the clubhouse tonight and see the mood us upbeat,” Wilson said. “Guys played well tonight and it builds confidence. But it’s a long season. You try to never be too high and never too low. But everybody’s going to feel good going into tomorrow.”