By Cooper Perkins
Special to the City Times
With one swing of the bat, Rob Calabrese (Illinois-Chicago) lifted the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (52-23, 3-0) to an unlikely victory in the opening game of the Summer Collegiate World Series. Trailing 4-3 with two outs and the tying run on first base, Calabrese lofted the first pitch he received from Dylan Smith over the left field wall to surge the Rafters to a 5-4 victory. With the miraculous come-from-behind victory over the Eau Claire Express (47-28, 2-1), the Rafters claimed a 1-0 series advantage entering Saturday night’s game two, meaning that they could clinch the league title with a victory in Eau Claire.
In the game’s first inning, the Rafters quickly supplied pressure to Eau Claire starter Jake Sommers, as leadoff man Richie Palacios (Towson) walked to begin the frame and stole second base. Two batters later, Rob Calabrese lined a run-scoring double to the right field corner to offer Rafter starter Gareth Stroh (Coffeyville CC) an early 1-0 advantage.
The lead would last only until the top of the third inning, however, when the Express mounted a threat by stacking a walk from Dalton Varsho on top of a single from Cody Bohanek. With one out, Alex McKenna singled home the tying run and leveled the score at 1-1 entering the bottom of the third. Following consecutive singles from Palacios and Jake Lumley (Canisius) to begin the frame, a throwing error by right fielder Kyle Marinconz allowed Palacios to score and pushed the Rafters back in front. After a Calabrese walk, Joe Wainhouse (Washington) pulled a single through the right side of the infield to plate Lumley from second base and widened the margin to 3-1 after three innings.
Starting pitcher Gareth Stroh cruised through the fourth inning before watching his night end early with one out in the fifth inning, as the Rafters opted to use John Jaeger (Sterling College) out of the bullpen. Jaeger finished a scoreless fifth inning, leaving Stroh’s final line at 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing five hits and three walks, while striking out six. In the sixth inning, however, Jaeger ran into trouble when the Express loaded the bases with two outs. Kyle Marinconz atoned for his earlier error with a run-scoring single to pull the Express within one run and set the stage for Northwoods League All-Star Dalton Varsho to bat with the bases loaded. On a 3-2 pitch, Jaeger managed to strike out the all-star catcher and left the bases loaded to end the sixth, keeping the Rafters in the lead by a score of 3-2.
Unfortunately for the Rafters, their bullpen endured a rare lapse, as Blair Lakso (Buffalo) succumbed to an RBI single by Alex McKenna to tie the game in the seventh frame. After a narrow escape in the eighth inning, Lakso passed the ball to Garrett Schilling (Xavier), who was tagged for the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly by Sam Hurt in the top of the ninth to give the Express a 4-3 lead.
Down to their final three chances, third baseman Andrew Turner (LIU-Brooklyn) worked a walk against Dylan Smith before Richie Palacios and Jake Lumely each flew out. Finally, with two outs and Turner on first base, Rob Calabrese etched his place in Rafters legend with a walk-off two run home run to left field, shocking Witter Field into a frenzy and triggering a celebration unlike any other this summer. Following his trip around the bases, Calabrese was mobbed by his teammates and chased around the ballpark before receiving a shaving cream pie facial and a gatorade bath.
With the victory, the Rafters sit just one game from clinching the 2016 Northwoods League Championship and will resume play on Saturday night at Carson Park in Eau Claire. First pitch is slated for 6:35 PM.
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