Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. — Early-game deficits have become a pattern for the Lakeshore Chinooks.
Striking out 14 times, a multi-run hole once again proved to be too large to escape.
Despite having posted two runs in the fourth, the Chinooks were unable to add more scoring late and dropped their fourth straight game, 8-3.
Lakeshore (13-17) tallied one hit through the final four innings while Wisconsin Rapids (18-13) relied on three runs in the seventh at Witter Field.
“I felt like we were trying to do too much all night,” Chinooks field manager Travis Akre said. “Rather than playing the game, we were forcing our way back in.”
In his third start of the season, Chinooks starting pitcher Nate Haberthier tossed a brief first frame and forced three groundouts yet ran into trouble in the second.
Rafters first baseman Marco Castillo started a three-run rally in the second with an infield single. Third baseman Josh Nicoloff was placed on first on the same result and catcher Weston Eberly registered a two-RBI single to left field to give Wisconsin Rapids an early 3-0 lead.
The scoring surge caused right-handed reliever Brody Ware to receive the ball at the start of the third, as the Kent State hurler allowed two runs and struck out five batters to tie a game high.
With one out in the fourth, catcher Riley Swenson registered his second hit of the night and moved into scoring position on a walk. Second baseman Paul Toetz knocked in an RBI single to score Swenson and designated hitter Jackson Gray walked, plating shortstop Mike Sears.
“Something that helped me a lot tonight was staying simple with my stride and really focusing on throwing my hands through center field,” said catcher Riley Swenson, who hit 2-for-3 after a hitless performance Sunday at Green Bay, of his approach.
Lakeshore sliced the deficit to one, only to fall behind by two once more. Rafters right fielder Elijah Dickerson delivered a two-out RBI double as Wisconsin Rapids gained a 5-2 advantage.
“Brody was working tonight,” Akre said. “He had a few leadoff walks that turned into runs which affected his outing. He’ll bounce back; he works too hard.”
The Chinooks continued to chip away in the fifth. First baseman Stephen Hrustich doubled to center field, bringing home right fielder Nathan Aide after a leadoff triple.
“I just listened to something Travis [Akre] said earlier in the week about ‘being where your feet are’ and I felt like that really helped me to be successful,” Hrustich said.
Ware struck out two batters to end the fifth. Rafters reliever Zachary Bennett kept the Lakeshore lineup quiet in the sixth. Toetz and Gray struck out swinging and Eberly padded the Rafters’ lead with a two-out RBI single to left field.
And then the floodgates opened in the seventh.
After a leadoff double to left field, Rafters left fielder McKinley Erves followed with an RBI double to right field, expanding the margin to five.
Wisconsin Rapids would tack on no additional runs in the subsequent innings, but enough scoring had been imposed. Relievers Andrew Duran and Billy Black each fired one inning, walking only Swenson.
Black struck out the final three Lakeshore batters to hand the Rafters a fifth consecutive victory.
“The score doesn’t show tonight but we’ve been playing good baseball lately, just coming up a little short,” Akre said. “Guys are still putting in the effort.”
Akre said that he remains confident in the team’s ability to finish the first half of the Northwoods League season on a strong note.
Holding the Chinooks to without a run across 2 2/3 innings, Bennett garnered the win. Haberthier was tacked with the loss.
Lakeshore totaled nine hits yet left 12 base runners stranded — three combined in the eighth and ninth — to eliminate two late scoring threats for a wavering result.
“We all know what we need to work on, and we have confidence in ourselves and teammates,” Swenson said. “We still have a long second half and plenty of games to get to where we want to be.”
The Chinooks and the Rafters will look to avoid a two-game series sweep against the Rafters on Thursday at Witter Field.