By Cooper Perkins
Battle Creek, MI – In a season that has been defined by firsts, the 2016 edition of the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (24-12) can add the title “First-Half South Division Champions” to their laundry list of accomplishments.
On the back of outstanding pitching, the Rafters outlasted the Battle Creek Bombers (18-18) by a score of 1-0 and clinched their spot in the Northwoods League playoffs come season’s end. With scoring at a premium and runs sparse, Damien Richard (Xavier) offered the Rafters a gutsy five-inning start in which he held the Bombers scoreless to earn the win. In his five innings of work, Richard scattered just three hits and two walks, while striking out three. Bomber starter Nigel Ward countered with an outstanding start of his own, working seven innings in which he allowed only one run on five hits and four walks, while striking out three and taking the loss.
While the game ended as a pitching showcase, the early innings looked as though the Rafter lineup might break through their recent scoring drought thanks to a multitude of threats. Before Ward had recorded an out in the first inning, the Rafters stacked a walk and a pair of singles to load the bases for Logan Mattix (Georgia College). Mattix proceeded to bounce a chopper to third base and instigate a 5-4-3 double play that allowed Demetrius Sims (Bethune-Cookman) to score and put the Rafters in front 1-0. Two innings later, the Rafters again loaded the bases with no outs, but proceeded to go scoreless thanks to a 1-2-3 double play and a fly out to end the inning. In total, the Rafters hit into a season-high four double plays, despite Battle Creek’s having turned the second-fewest twin killings in the league entering play.
Battle Creek’s best chance to score came in the third inning after a single by Daniel Platzaff and a throwing error by Richard put Christian Helsel aboard. When Richard’s throw sailed down the right field line, both runners advanced an additional station, but Helsel made a wide turn around second base and drew a throw from the cutoff man. The ensuing rundown resulted in Helsel being tagged out at third and Platzaff thrown out trying to score from third.
Upon Richard’s exit, the Rafters handed the ball to their bullpen and received scoreless innings from both Cameron Busby (Georgia College) and Blair Lakso (Buffalo). Still leading 1-0 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, the Rafters turned to closer Garrett Schilling (Xavier) to secure a six-out save and finish the game. In two innings, Schilling worked around a pair of walks and struck out four Bombers in the process of recording his franchise-record tying eleventh save of the season.
With the victory, the Rafters clinched the Northwoods League South Division first-half title and a berth in the league playoffs at the end of the season. Season ticket holders will have the ability to reserve playoff tickets through Friday, July 8 and single-game playoff tickets will go on sale Monday, July 11.
The Rafters return to action at Witter Field Wednesday to begin the season’s second half against the Kenosha Kingfish. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.with gates opening to the general public at 6:05 p.m.
For more information please visit raftersbaseball.com.