By Cooper Perkins
Special to the City Times
Monday night marks the beginning of the Northwoods League Playoffs and for the first time in the franchise’s seven-year existence, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (49-23) will be involved. As they welcome the Lakeshore Chinooks (35-37) to town for a first-round single elimination game, the Rafters begin their postseason quest for a league title. The playoff game will mark the club’s first postseason appearance in franchise history, as the Chinooks appear in the playoffs for the third time in their five-year existence.
Taking the ball for the Rafters will be right-hander Chris Cooper (Texas A&M Corpus Christi), who was selected to the Northwoods League Postseason All-Star Team on Sunday morning. A native of Montgomery, Texas, Cooper has earned the top spot in the Rafters’ rotation after posting the best full season of any starting pitcher in franchise history. Cooper’s 2.03 ERA is the lowest of any pitcher in club history that has qualified for a league ERA title, placing him fourth in the entire NWL. Cooper looks to quiet a Lakeshore lineup that has consistently struggled to score runs in 2016 and finished last in the 18-team league with 307 runs scored, averaging 4.26 per contest. In his 10 regular season starts, Cooper posted a 4-2 record and 38 strikeouts compared to 15 walks in 57 2/3 innings on the mound, but has not faced Lakeshore to date, meaning that the meeting will be Cooper’s first exposure to the Chinooks’ heavily right-handed lineup. The last time the right-hander took the mound was on August 8 at home against the Wisconsin Woodchucks, a 6-5 Rafters victory in which Cooper pitched a season-high 7 1/3 innings and allowed five runs (all earned) on 10 base hits, while striking out a season-high seven batters.
Cooper’s opponent in Monday night’s payoff opener will be fellow right-hander Cole Gnetz, a participant in last week’s Major League Dreams Showcase. Gnetz, who hails from Minnesota, enters play with a 2-3 record and an ERA of 3.68 in 51 1/3 innings pitched, striking out 37 batters and issuing 35 walks. The Miami (Ohio) product has had only limited exposure to the Rafters, as he pitched one inning in the Rafters’ August 3 victory in Mequon. In the appearance, Gnetz was tagged for a game-tying two-run home run by Dustin Woodcock (SIU-Edwardsville) and went on to take the loss after a dropped pop fly allowed the go-ahed run to score. In his most recent outing, Gnetz pitched three innings in which he allowed two runs on two hits and four walks, striking out three on Thursday against the Battle Creek Bombers.
While the Rafters are slated to make their postseason debut, the Chinooks enter for the third time in their five-season existence, owning a 5-2 record. After a second-round exit in 2013, Lakeshore ran the table in 2014 to win the first and only Northwoods League Championship in team history. First pitch between the Rafters and the Chinooks is scheduled for 7:05 PM with gates opening to the general public at 6:05 PM.
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