A First In Rafters Franchise History Achieved Despite Constant Changes To Roster
Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.- The fifth season of Wisconsin Rapids Rafters baseball began under some unusual circumstances. Ruben Noriega, an assistant coach at the University of California-Berkley, was tabbed to lead the team for the 2014 season just over a week before opening day, following a situation that would not allow the originally named field manager to coach the team. Off the field, the Rafters unveiled a new Interactive Accessible Seating Area, believed to be the first of its kind in minor league sports, in partnership with the Northwoods League Foundation. Following a successful 2013 campaign and the infusion of some high level talent, anticipation was running high for the 2014 season.
First Half (12-23)
The Rafters played their first game of the season on Tuesday, May 27th against the expansion Kenosha Kingfish at Witter Field. Despite dropping the opening series of the season, the team roared back with a series sweep of their own against the rival Wisconsin Woodchucks to bring their record to 2-2 early in the season. The Rafters’ never-say-die attitude was evident from the beginning, and always gave the team and their fans the belief they could overcome any deficit they may encounter throughout the season.
A rough patch hit the Rafters as they would endure an 11 game losing streak during the month of June, dropping consecutive series to Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, La Crosse, Lakeshore, and La Crosse again before getting back in the win column against the Kalamazoo Growlers. While the Rafters played well the remainder of the first half, they were unable to climb out of the hole they had dug themselves and would not threaten for the top spot in the South Division, finishing with a record of 12-23.
All Star Break
The Northwoods League All Star game was held at Kapco Park, home of the Lakeshore Chinooks, for the first time in 2014. In front of an All Star game crowd of 2,106, the South Division defeated the North Division team by a score of 3-0.
The Rafters had two players selected to represent the South Division team: Shortstop Zack Domingues (Long Beach St.) and left-handed pitcher Jon Malmin (Texas). In the game, Domingues displayed what had made his play so special throughout the season, walking twice and scoring a run while playing a stellar shortstop for the team led by honorary manager and Hall of Famer Robin Yount. Malmin unfortunately was unable to participate in the game due to an injury to his throwing shoulder, which would end his season.
Second Half (15-22)
Despite facing what seemed like continuous roster turnover, the Rafters battled tough in nearly every game of the second half. After winning their last game of the first half against the Wisconsin Woodchucks 12-6, the Rafters dropped their first four games of the second half. From there it was a seesaw battle with the Rafters unable to put together any winning streaks of longer than four games during the remainder of the year. One of those four game win streaks came during the final week of the season when the Rafters won their final four home games of the year, including the last game in blowout fashion over the Green Bay Bullfrogs by the score of 10-1 in front 2,113 cranberry crazies, the third largest crowd in franchise history. The team finished the season with an overall record of 27-45.
A highlight of the second half came in a game started by Domenic Mazza (UC Santa Barbara) against the Lakeshore Chinooks. On July 15th Mazza threw the first no-hitter in Rafters franchise history, completely baffling the opposing lineup en route to 10 strikeouts through his eight innings. Unfortunately for the Rafters, their offense was also kept in check that evening and the Chinooks took the game 2-0.
An offensive thrill came in the Rafters’ day game on July 30th against the Eau Claire Express. Trailing 7-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth inning, Wisconsin Rapids scored five runs to win the game on a walk-off wild pitch by the score of 8-7.
Postseason All Stars
Wisconsin Rapids shortstop Zack Domingues was the only Rafters player named to the Northwoods League postseason All-Star team. Domingues was an offensive force from the moment he arrived in Wisconsin Rapids. Immediately assuming the leadoff role in the Rafters lineup, he owned the batter’s box on his way to winning a Northwoods League Batting Title, the first in franchise history, as he compiled a batting average of .376. This would easily eclipse the previous team record of .326 set last season by Jackson Slaid (Montevallo). Domingues would also set the new single season team record for walks, with 55, and carried an on-base percentage of .498.
Despite not being named a postseason All-Star, Keelin Rasch (Louisiana Monroe) finished the year tremendously at the plate. He was arguably the team’s hottest hitter over the final few weeks of the year. Rasch set new single season records for hits (84) and doubles (19), led the team in home runs (8) and RBIs (57) and finished second on the team in batting (.326).
Starting pitcher Domenic Mazza was fantastic on the mound for the Rafters in 2014. In his seven starts, Mazza finished with a record of 2-2 with a 1.43 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 44 innings of work.
Notable Hitting Leaders:
Zack Domingues (Long Beach St.): .376 AVG, 80 hits, 49 runs, 55 walks, 30 RBIs, 15 SB
Keelin Rasch (Louisana Monroe): .340 AVG, 84 hits, 38 runs, 19 2B, 57 RBIs
Erik Payne (Virginia Tech): .333 AVG, 46 hits, 25 runs, 10 2B, 4 HR
Clark Eagan (Arkansas): .317 AVG, 55 hits, 29 RBIs, 25 runs, 15 2B
Michael Jurgella (St. Cloud State): .271 AVG, 58 hits, 36 runs, 27 RBIs, 11 2B
Notable Pitching Leaders:
Domenic Mazza (UC Santa Barbara): 2-2, 1.43 ERA, 44.0 IP, 50 SO
Jon Malmin (Texas): 1-1, 2.01 ERA, 35.2 IP, 21 SO
Jake Cage (Azusa Pacific): 4-1, 2.85 ERA, 34.2 IP, 18 SO
Jason Freeman (Texas A&M): 2-3, 3.12 ERA, 54.2 IP, 46 SO, 1 SV
Zach Jackson (Arkansas): 2-2, 4.06 ERA, 37.2 IP, 59 SO
The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 21st season of summer collegiate baseball, the Northwoods League is the largest organized baseball league in the world with 18 teams, drawing significantly more fans, in a friendly ballpark experience, than any league of its kind. A valuable training ground for coaches, umpires and front office staff, more than 115 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (DET) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (WAS), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Allen Craig (STL) and Ben Zobrist (TB). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League YouTube channel. For more information, visit www.raftersbaseball.com.