By Cooper Perkins
Wausau, Wis. – Beginning a brutal stretch of five games in three days, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (18-9) wrapped up their six-game road trip by sweeping the Wisconsin Woodchucks (13-13) in a double-header. With two seven-inning dates scheduled for Monday night, the Rafters bested the Woodchucks 12-5 in the opening tilt and 4-1 in the back end.
Behind an offensive explosion in game one and strong pitching in game two, the Rafters widened their South Division lead to a full game despite the Madison Mallards’ winning. Logan Mattix (Georgia College) smashed two home runs in game one, part of a 4-for-4 performance that earned him Northwoods League Position Player of the Night honors.
In the first match up, the Rafters used a first-inning sacrifice fly from Ben Fisher (Eastern Kentucky) to plate Jake Lumley (Canisius) and offer the Rafters an early 1-0 lead. The lead would not last for long, however, as Ruben Cardenas yanked a three-run home run to left field off Jay Peters (UW-Milwaukee) in the bottom of the frame to take the lead back for the Woodchucks.
Trailing 3-1 upon entrance to the second inning, the Rafters responded to plate six runs and take a 7-3 lead, while knocking starting pitcher Joey Steele from the ballgame. The six-run inning matched the largest single-inning output produced by the Rafters this season. After run-scoring singles from Mattix, Demetrius Sims (Bethune-Cookman), and Lumley, the Rafters pushed two additional tallies across courtesy of a duo of wild pitches from Steele. In the bottom of the inning, the Woodchucks would again offer a response, this time in the form of a two-run blast from Chad Fleischman to cut the Rafter lead to 7-5.
The Rafters would score the final five runs of the game on three home runs, including solo homers from Mattix in the third inning and the fifth inning, and a three-run long ball off the bat of Joey Morgan (Washington) in the seventh. Leading 12-5 in the bottom of the seventh innings, Jack Riley (UConn) closed out his third inning of scoreless relief and secured the victory.
Approximately half an hour later, the Rafters and Woodchucks set out to complete their twin bill. Sending Eric Linda (Millersville) to the mound for his first start of the season, the Rafters hoped the right-hander would offer a break to the bullpen. In six innings of scoreless work, Ligda baffled the Woodchuck lineup in route to a season-high seven strikeouts and just two base runners. At one point, Ligda set down 13 consecutive Woodchuck hitters.
In the top of the second inning, the Rafters stacked a bases-loaded fielder’s choice from Jon Meola (Virginia) and an error by Wisconsin shortstop George Janca to plate the first two runs of the ballgame. The next batter, Demetrius Sims, lofted a fly ball deep enough to score Jacson McGowan (Purdue) from third and extended the lead. Finally, with two outs Patrick Cromwell (Clemson) laced a single up the middle to plate the Rafters’ fourth and final run of the inning, pushing the score to 4-0.
The subsequent innings would prove uneventful until the Woodchucks mounted their only rally of the ballgame against Ligda in the bottom of the sixth inning. After a walk, an error, and a dropped third strike, the ‘Chucks faced a bases-loaded opportunity only to watch as catcher Rob Calabrese (Illinois-Chicago) picked off an unassuming Ruben Cardenas at first base to end the threat.
With Ligda out of the game, Wisconsin managed to score a run off Blair Lakso (Buffalo) in the bottom of the seventh, but their push was too little too late. Lakso recorded the final outs and the Rafters clinched their seventh win in eight games. With the sweep of Monday’s double header, the Rafters moved half a game further ahead of the field in the South Division standings and now enjoy a full one-game lead on the second-place Madison Mallards.
The Rafters will return to action for a one-game visit to Witter Field against the Woodchucks Tuesday night with first pitch slated for 7:05 p.m. and gates opening to the public at 6:05 p.m.
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