Recap: Record-Breaking Season Ends In NWL Title For Rafters
Records fall as Rafters dominate both halves to reach top
Following a 2015 season in which the Rafters posted the highest win total in franchise history, the seventh-year club was fortunate to return a handful of key players in addition to Field Manager Craig Noto and Pitching Coach John Halama to their 2016 squad. After a fast start to the season, the Rafters built enough momentum to roll through the South Division regular-season slate, winning both the first and second half titles, while finishing six games in front of the second-place team. Including their perfect playoff run, the club used a 14-2 finish to the season to not only clinch the best overall record in the Northwoods League, but also the first Summer Collegiate World Series Championship in the franchise’s history.
First Half (24-12)
Following an opening night defeat in Green Bay, the 2016 Rafters offered their fans a first glimpse at the dramatic tendencies that underscored the season when Jake Lumley (Canisius) delivered a walk-off solo home run on the first pitch of the tenth inning to lift the Rafters to their first win of the season. The excitement continued to build for Rafter fans as the club raced through the best half in franchise history on the back of outstanding pitching, hitting, and fielding. With three games remaining in the season’s first half, the Rafters owned a three-game lead over the second-place Madison Mallards. Following an offensive lull in the state of Michigan, the Rafter pitching staff rose to the occasion on July 5 against the Battle Creek Bombers to clinch the division title on the road. Despite scoring just a single run on a first-inning double play, the Rafters managed to outlast the Bombers 1-0 thanks to five shutout innings from Damien Richard (Xavier) and four scoreless frames from the Rafters’ bullpen. The final day of the first half proved to be a night to celebrate for the Rafters organization, as they clinched a playoff berth for the first time in team history.
In addition to a franchise-record five selections to the South Division All-Star Team, the Rafter coaching staff enjoyed the honor of coaching the South Division team in the NWL All-Star Game. Representing the Rafters were infielder Jake Lumley (Canisius), outfielder Logan Mattix (Georgia College), starting pitcher Chris Cooper (Texas A&M Corpus Christi), relief pitcher Cameron Busby (Georgia College), and closing pitcher Garrett Schilling (Xavier). Cooper received the starting nod for the South Division and Schilling worked 2/3 of a scoreless inning on the mound, while Lumley and Mattix combined to record five base hits and two runs scored. Additionally, Mattix represented the South Division in the highly publicized NWL Home Run Derby on Lake Michigan, helping the South to a victory.
Second Half (25-11)
With a playoff berth already in hand, the Rafters set out in hopes of sweeping the South Division race and used an exceptional finish to clinch the top overall seed in the Northwoods League. In addition to posting a 15-5 record over their last 20 regular season games, the Rafters reeled off a franchise-record nine-game winning streak from August 3 to August 12. Not only was the winning streak the longest in franchise history, but it also matched the St. Cloud Rox’s first-half effort for the longest winning streak in the Northwoods League during the 2016 season. While their quest to become just the fourth 50-win team in league history fell short, the Rafters did succeed in either breaking or tying 21 separate franchise records. Among the most notable records broken at season’s end were the marks for best team ERA (3.41), team batting average (.279), and runs scored per game (5.74). Following the regular season’s conclusion, a trio of Rafter players and one staff coaching staff member received postseason honors. Representing the Rafters on the Northwoods League Postseason All-Star Team were pitchers Chris Cooper (Texas A&M Corpus Christi) and Garrett Schilling (Xavier) and second baseman Jake Lumley (Canisius). Rounding out the club’s honors, second-year pitching coach John Halama was voted the Coach of the Year.
Owning the top overall record in the Northwoods League, the Rafters had the privilege of hosting the first playoff game in franchise history when they welcomed the Lakeshore Chinooks to Witter Field on August 15. The ensuing ballgame offered Rafter fans a record-setting display, as the Rafters exploded for a franchise-record 19 runs in the process of routing the 2014 league champs by a final score of 19-3. A 7-3 win over Battle Creek the next night pushed the Rafters into the Summer Collegiate World Series, where they met the North Division Champion Eau Claire Express.
Hosted at Witter Field, game one of the Championship Series was undoubtedly the most memorable and shocking ending to a game in franchise history. Trailing by a run with a runner on base and two outs, Rob Calabrese (Illinois-Chicago) clubbed a walk-off two-run home run to left field that catapulted the Rafters to a 1-0 lead and hurled the series into the limelight, as the long ball featured as the #8 play on SportsCenter’s nightly top-10 countdown. One evening later, a six-run inning helped lift the Rafters to an 11-4 victory at Carson Park as they clinched the first Northwoods League Title in franchise history. In their four-game playoff run, the Rafters posted a scoring average of 10.5 runs per game, hit .369 as a team, and received tremendous offensive performances from a trio of hitters. Richie Palacios (Towson) hit .500 and scored a team-leading seven runs, Joe Wainhouse (Washington) smashed a home run and drove in nine runs while batting .444, and Calabrese led the way with a .625 batting average, two home runs, and 10 RBI.
In a year that featured as many record performances as the summer of 2016, a handful of statistical feats stood above the rest in the scope of Wisconsin Rapids Rafters history. On an individual basis, closing pitcher and Summer Collegiate All-American Garrett Schilling (Xavier) posted a franchise-record 18 saves to lead the Northwoods League. His total shattered the former mark set by J.P. Feyereisen in 2013. Also on the mound, starting pitcher Chris Cooper set a new mark for the lowest ERA of any qualified pitcher in franchise history, as he maintained a 2.02 mark across 57 2/3 innings, while going 4-2 on the campaign.
A trio of other Rafters came exceedingly close to breaking individual marks, led by right-hander John Jaeger (Sterling College), who matched Jake Johansmeier’s 2015 total of seven victories. While pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen, Jaeger dominated opposing hitters to the tune of an unblemished 7-0 record and a 2.12 ERA in 46 2/3 innings while striking out 36 and walking just 11. Also on an individual basis, first baseman Ben Fisher (Eastern Kentucky) finished with 21 doubles and 29 extra-base hits, leaving him just one shy of matching the team record in each category. Second baseman Jake Lumley enjoyed a similarly excellent season as he posted the second-most base hits in franchise history (82), just two short of Keelin Rasch’s 2014 record.
Team Leaders (Regular Season)
Notable Hitting Leaders:
Joe Wainhouse (Washington): .321 AVG, 34 hits, 6 2B, 9 HR, 31 RBI
Jake Lumley (Canisius): .309 AVG, 82 hits, 11 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 42 BB, 13 SB
Rob Calabrese (Illinois-Chicago): .306 AVG, 45 hits, 1 HR, 29 RBI, 23 BB
Patrick Cromwell (Clemson): .305 AVG, 57 hits, 8 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 18 RBI, 36 BB
Dustin Woodcock (SIU-Edwardsville): .299 AVG, 61 hits, 8 2B, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 36 BB
Ben Fisher (Eastern Kentucky): .292 AVG, 68 hits, 21 2B, 8 HR, 33 RBI, 30 BB
Notable Pitching Leaders:
Garrett Schilling (Xavier): 18 SV, 1.90 ERA, 40 SO, 8 BB, 28.1 IP
Blair Lakso (Buffalo): 6-0, 1.40 ERA, 40 SO, 11 BB, 32 IP
Chris Cooper (Texas A&M Corpus Christi): 4-2, 2.02 ERA, 38 SO, 15 BB, 57.2 IP
John Jaeger (Sterling College): 7-0, 2.12 ERA, 36 SO, 11 BB, 46.2 IP
Eric Ligda (Millersville): 1-3, 2.27 ERA, 48 SO, 15 BB, 51.1 IP
Jake Repavich (Grand Canyon): 2-3, 2.38 ERA, 26 SO, 17 BB, 56.2 IP