By Cooper Perkins
Special to the City Times
After six years of sub-.500 finishes and 507 seven total games, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (53-23, 4-0) erased their prolonged frustrations with an 11-4 route of the Eau Claire Express (47-49, 2-2) to sweep the Summer Collegiate World Series and clinch the first Northwoods League Championship in franchise history. On the back of a six-run explosion in the sixth inning, the Rafters coasted through the final three innings of the game and secured the pinnacle of summer collegiate success.
After trading scoreless frames in the first two innings, the Rafters surged to the first lead of the night in the top of the third inning. Rob Calabrese (Illinois-Chicago), Thursday night’s walk-off hero, picked up where he left off by lining a run-scoring sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Andrew Turner (LIU-Brooklyn) from third base. The lead, however, lasted only briefly, as the Express posted a response in the bottom of the inning. With Kyle Marinconz on first base and two outs, Daulton Varsho drove a double the opposite direction to the left field corner, scoring Marinconz and tying the game.
A scoreless fourth inning for both clubs was followed by a lively fifth in which the Rafters surged back ahead with a one-out rally. Walks by Richie Palacios (Towson) and Jake Lumley (Canisius) put runners on first and second in front of Calabrese, who pulled through yet again with an RBI double plating Palacios. The next batter, Joe Wainhouse (Washington), lofted a run-scoring sacrifice fly to center field to score Lumley and bring the Rafters’ lead to 3-1. In the bottom of the fifth, the Express chopped the Rafters’ advantage in half thanks to a two-out throwing error that scored Zach Ashford to move the game to 3-2.
The ensuing top of the sixth inning offered the defining sequence of the game, as the Rafters exploded to send 10 men to the plate and scored six runs. Andrew Turner widened the lead to three runs with a two-run single to center field before scoring on a double by Rob Calabrese. Jake Lumley brought home another run on a double to the right field corner and Joe Wainhouse rounded out the six-run frame with a two-run single through the right side of the infield to stake the Rafters to a 9-2 lead. An RBI single from Lumley in the seventh inning and a towering home run from Wainhouse in the eighth rounded out the scoring for the Rafters, as they were not threatened again.
Riding an 11-4 lead, right-hander Jay Peters (UW-Milwaukee) returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning looking to close out the ballgame for the Rafters. With two outs and a man on first base, Peters struck out Connor Olson looking to end the game and was met by a dog pile on the infield to commence a celebration the likes of which the franchise had not seen previously.
In the victory, starting pitcher Jake Repavich (Grand Canyon) earned the win by throwing 5 2/3 innings and allowing just three runs (one earned) on seven hits and one walk, earning one strikeout. Peters finished out the game’s final 3 1/3 innings and allowed one earned run on four hits and a walk, striking out four batters.
The Rafters would like to invite all fans to report to Witter Field tomorrow at noon to greet the players in their return from Eau Claire, as the organization celebrates the first Northwoods League Championship in franchise history.
For more information please visit raftersbaseball.com