Mequon, Wis. — The Lakeshore Chinooks (2-2) welcomed back their loyal fans to Kapco Park on a beautiful Thursday evening for the first of two fan appreciation nights, where fans received a T-shirt and magnet schedule upon entry.
Over the course of the week, more and more of the Chinooks players trickled in and joined the team. One of those players was pitcher Ben Riffe who made his first career start as a Chinook.
Arriving with the team on Tuesday, Riffe had very little time to prepare for his start, which pitching coach Keith Ritsch seemed to be worried very little about. Ritsch mentioned before the game that Riffe pitched about 40 innings as a freshman, finishing with more strikeouts on the year than innings pitched.
The Fond Du Lac Dock Spiders(3-1) struggled to string hits together Wednesday night, scoring three runs on seven hits. Coming out hungry to score on game two, the Dock Spiders opened the first frame of the game matching their previous night’s score with three runs.
Riffe’s struggles continued, allowing three more runs in just three innings pitched, finishing his debut outing with six earned runs, on six hits and two strikeouts.
After the Dock Spiders led the game off with their three runs, it didn’t take long for the Chinooks offense to get rolling and score a pair of their own as first basemen Griffin Doersching lined a two run single into center field, taking the Chinooks into the third trailing only by one.
Lakeshore’s early hitting kept them in the game, managing to take a two run advantage (6-4) following a Conner Fiene two out RBI single.
The resilient Dock Spiders continued to fight at the plate, adding another run in the top of the fourth, ending Ben Riffe’s debut and forcing Chinooks field manager Travis Akre to turn to his bullpen.
Brody Ware, who also debuted, came fresh from the bullpen with hopes of closing the door on the Dock Spiders fourth inning attack. But a passed ball behind the dish dampened the crowd noise as Fond Du Lac evened the score.
In his next few frames, Ware struggled to find the strike zone, walking four batters in 3 2/3 innings, adding on two earned runs as well.
Akre once again turned to the pen, this time bringing in Jack Kartsonas, who joined the team and added to his name to the list of players who made their debuts.
Prior to the game, pitching coach Keith Ritsch spoke about his new pitchers and their eager mentality heading into the summer saying, “I think the biggest part is that they want to be here,” Ritsch said. “When they got here, they introduced themselves and they were ready to roll. We are excited to see what they can do.”
Kartsonas managed to halt the Dock Spiders momentum to just one run in the final three frames of the game, pounding the zone with stikes on 23/36 pitches, adding four strikeouts to his impressive performance.
As the rain started to fall on Kapco Park, the offense sputtered. The Chinooks struggled to get their runners home, leaving 16 runners on base, ultimately being the team’s achilles heel in their second loss of the season.
The Chinooks have stranded 10 or more runners for the second time in four games this season which hitting coach Bladen Bales described as players playing too much hero ball saying, “We talk about sticking to our approach, obviously we are hitting the ball pretty well,” Bales said.
Bales went on to explain, “We just aren’t getting the hits when guys are on base. Just not pressing, go out there and have fun, but you also gotta know that you gotta do your job.”
Needing to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth, the Chinooks found a way to continue to get runners in scoring position after Fiene was hit by a pitch and shortstop Bryan Aguilar singled to left.
However, the production stopped in the worst time possible as they ultimately fell to the Dock Spiders 9-6 in the first game at Kapco Park in 662 days.
The Chinooks look to defend their home turf Friday night at 6:35 p.m. against the Wisconsin Woodchucks (3-1), the first two game series between the two teams in the 2021 campaign.