Wisconsin Rapids leadoff hitter Josh Nicoloff came to the plate twice with the bases loaded. In the third, he ripped a three-RBI double into left center off of Michael Dunkelberger, who replaced K-Zoo starter Trey Nordmann after two and two-thirds innings, to put the Rafters up 6-1. In the eighth, the third baseman smoked a Braden Forsyth fastball into the Miller Lite Bear Trap to put Wisconsin Rapids in the clear and cement the final score.
Nicoloff had those opportunities because Growlers pitchers failed to find the strike zone. The Rafters scored those 11 runs on just 6 hits. Kalamazoo’s six arms combined for 17 walks, two hit batters and an error. Six out of seven Nicoloff RBIs reached base on such free passes. His seventh was himself. Nordmann walked six and struck out five, allowing six earned runs. Dunkelberger walked two and allowed a run. Mason Millett and Kyle Salley walked six combined, and allowed four runs in their respective Growlers debuts. Forsyth walked a batter and allowed the slam. Luke Pappas was the only Kalamazoo pitcher to not walk a batter in the top of the ninth.
The Growlers offense did have some fight in it, responded when the struggling bullpen needed help the most. Believe it or not, Kalamazoo actually opened the scoring against Wisconsin Rapids starter Justin Beyer, as Don Goodes doubled and came around to score when Blake Dunn was gunned down trying to steal second. After the Rafters’ big six spot in the top of the third, Anthony Calaraco singled and Luke Storm doubled in the fourth; both were plated on sacrifice outs. Dunn reached on an error in the sixth, but was gunned down from right field trying to score. However, Storm, Satchell Wilson and Damon Lux kept the rally going. Storm singled and scored on his Duke teammate’s base hit, then Cooper Doughman roped a double in the left-center gap to score Wilson and Lux. It was 7-6 Rafters heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Dunn reached on an infield single, and Homer Stryker Field began to bubble with noise. He advanced to second on a fielder’s choice, and Storm came up for his fifth at bat. Storm had carried the Growlers run with his two previous hits and a glove-side diving play at third base. The freshman stared down Rafters reliever Devin Rivera, and promptly ripped a fastball into deep right field to easily score Dunn. Storm was left stranded, but the game was tied.
Unfortunately, the Kalamazoo offense couldn’t build a dam against the river of walks, and four in the eighth led to the grand slam. The Growlers had two hits in the ninth, but a double play ended the contest.
The Growlers head to Wisconsin tomorrow for a doubleheader against the Lakeshore Chinooks.