(Pictured: C Scott Kapers, Valparaiso. Photo Courtesy Valpo Athletics)
The Rafters Team Report will be your weekly update on the Spring season's of your 2016 Wisconsin Rapids Rafters. Be sure to check back each week for a new update.
April 18 – April 24: Mattix, Fisher Keep Hot Bats Rolling
By: Cooper Perkins
The onset of Northwoods League play continues to approach with building momentum and anticipation as each member of the 2016 Rat Pack continues his collegiate season. With May 31 barely a month away, the latest edition of the weekly recap chronicles the performance of some familiar faces and also welcomes a host of freshly announced signees to the publication.
Beginning in Division II, the train is rolling for Georgia College, who entered the week riding a three-game winning streak and rolled through a weekend series at home against Young Harris to extend their streak to six games. At the forefront of the Bobcats’ success were a pair of Rafter signees who continue to impress in advance of their Northwoods League debuts. Sophomore outfielder Logan Mattix continued his season-long hitting clinic by finishing five-for-ten at the plate with a pair of doubles, four walks, five runs scored and a stolen base. In 41 appearances for the Bobcats, Mattix has stroked the ball at a .324 clip with 10 home runs, 36 RBI, 11 stolen bases, and a team-leading 55 runs scored. Not to be outdone by his fellow Rafter signee, sophomore hurler Cameron Busby pitched in two of the three match ups, working 5.1 innings, giving up three runs, striking out seven, and holding the opposition without a walk. Additionally, the versatile right-hander was pleased to pick up his team-leading ninth victory of the season in addition to his second save of 2016. In 24 outings out of the bullpen, Busby has compiled a 9-2 record and posted a 3.64 ERA, tallied 53 punch outs, and issued just nine walks in 66.2 innings on the mound.
Fellow Division II contender Dixie State continued their eight-game home stand with a four-game tilt against PacWest foe Hawaii-Pacific. The Storm offered an excellent showing in the process of procuring three more victories and running their season record to an outstanding 35-11 with just one more regular season series separating them from the postseason. Toeing the rubber in the opening half of Friday’s double header, Rafter signee Dylan File scattered four runs—just two earned—and stuck out two over five innings. The outing resulted in a win for the sophomore right-hander and advanced his record to 5-1 on the campaign. With just a single weekend remaining on the schedule before postseason play, File has made 12 starts, posted an excellent 3.07 ERA, and tallied 59 strikeouts in 76.1 frames of work.
Fresh off the announcement of his signing to the Rafters’ roster, pitcher Eric Ligda helped his Millersville University squad to a productive week, finishing 5-1. In the process of improving their season record to 39-4, the Marauders accomplished a fantastic offensive feat by scoring 34 runs against Lincoln in their midweek date. In the record-breaking offensive outburst, Ligda pitched an inning out of the bullpen, accomplishing the exceedingly rare feat of striking out four hitters in a single frame. The appearance would prove to be Ligda’s only taste of action during the week, as the remainder of the Marauders’ games were characterized by excellent, extended outings by starting pitchers. In six appearances, the freshman right-hander is still seeking his first decision, while he has established a 4.05 ERA and has rung up 12 hitters over the span of 6.2 innings on the hill.
Jumping to Division I and the Big Ten Conference, the University of Minnesota offered an exhibition in domination by outscoring their opposition by a count of 34-6 in route to sweeping all four contests. Sophmore sensation Luke Pettersen made appearances in each victory, but endured a quiet week at the plate, notching just a pair of hits in nine at-bats and scoring a single run. The young infielder remains a fixture in the Gopher dugout, as he is hitting a crisp .300 with 11 runs scored and six RBI. Unlike Pettersen, future Rafter pitcher Jeff Fasching did not break into any of last week’s games, as he was forced to look on from the dugout. The lack of work meant that the former high school quarterback’s statistics held stagnant with a 6.35 ERA and an unblemished 1-0 record.
Also competing in the challenging Big Ten, the Purdue Boilermakers have struggled as a unit all season, managing just seven wins compared to thirty losses. This past week, the Boilermakers were able to take one of four outings by besting Maryland 7-1 in Friday’s series opener. True freshman Jacson McGowan, who opened the season as Purdue’s starting third baseman, was relegated to only one pinch hitting appearance, in which he was held hitless.
The second half of the season has developed into an incredible run for NAIA Sterling College, demonstrated by their most recent weekend sweep that pushed the squad’s winning streak to 15 games. Hosting Ottawa College for a four-game set, the Warriors promptly disposed of their visitors by averaging more than ten runs per game. Right-handed hurler John Jaeger bookended the weekend by making virtually identical appearances in the opening and final games of the series. Between the two outings, Jaeger fired 2.1 innings of hitless, scoreless baseball, allowing just one walk and striking out a single hitter. Jaeger, who is now entrenched in his role as a reliever, has made 17 appearances, including 12 out of the bullpen, and has posted a 5-1 record. In 38.1 innings on the mound, the junior has registered a 3.29 ERA and an astonishing 36-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Jaeger’s willingness to pitch on consecutive days was mirrored by Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Chris Cooper, who logged time in all four of the Islanders’ contests this past week. Much to the delight of Corpus Christi supporters, Cooper turned in an excellent week-long performance by holding the opposition to just one run in seven total innings, scattering seven hits and three walks. The redshirt sophomore also struck out a pair as his record held steady at 1-1. Through 17 appearances, 12 of which have come in relief, Cooper has registered 40.1 innings on the hill, maintained a 3.35 ERA, collected a save, and piled up 26 strikeouts.
After a split week that offered Colonel fans reason for optimism down the stretch of the season, this past week proved to be imminently frustrating for Eastern Kentucky, as they dropped all four of their outings. Despite his squad’s struggles, first baseman Ben Fisher enjoyed a productive week by batting .333 (5-of-15), smashing his sixth home run of the season—a career high—and driving in two total runs. The junior’s latest impressive display at the plate lifted his batting average to .285, brought his RBI total to 25, and extended his career-high total of runs scored to 28. Fisher’s fellow Rafter signee Hunter Dunn, a sophomore right-handed pitcher, did not see action in any of the Colonels’ four games, leaving his record untouched at 3-3 and his ERA stationary at 5.36 in 42 innings.
Contrasting the difficulties of Eastern Kentucky, the Lopes of Grand Canyon parlayed their series-salvaging win over Seattle last Sunday into a three-game sweep of North Dakota. On the road in Grand Forks, the Lopes’ pitching staff held the Fighting Hawks to four runs or less in all three match ups, picking up a trio of much-needed conference victories. Left-handed pitcher and Rafters signee Jake Repavich was tasked with setting the tone of the weekend as the Lopes’ Friday starter. Despite a solid showing that spanned 5.1 innings and limited North Dakota to just four runs, victory eluded Repavich, meaning that the southpaw was relegated to a no-decision. The breakout performer’s sustained success is reflected in his 2.76 ERA and 33 strikeouts over 58.2 innings that are spread across 10 starts. Returning Rafter Ethan Evanko did not see time in any of the three games, allowing his 2-2 record to persist, while leaving his 5.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts constant.
Last week, UW-Milwaukee struggled through a couple of double headers as the Panthers were swept in a twin bill at Valparaiso on Saturday before returning home to split a second double dip against Illinois-Chicago. In his only outing of the weekend, Jay Peters earned the starting nod for the back half of Saturday’s action and posted 4.2 innings, scattering six hits and three runs—none earned. The right-hander also managed to strike out five while walking just one. Through his 12 appearances, Peters has worked in a starting capacity eight times, built a 3-4 record, and maintained a 3.19 ERA over 53.2 innings. Despite the rare opportunity for Rafter teammates to square off against one another in Saturday’s action between Milwaukee and Valparaiso, the matchup between Peters and Valpo catcher Scott Kapers would never materialize. After starting the opener of Valparaiso’s double header against Milwaukee, the true freshman sat out the back end and did not face Peters, his future Rafter teammate. Throughout the Crusaders’ four games, Kapers persevered through a frustrating week, as he was held hitless in six at-bats, reaching base only once on a walk.
In the Big East, Xavier University was prepared for an exceptionally grueling schedule, as the slate had them set to play six games in seven days. Due to inclement weather, however, the opener of the Musketeers’ four-game tilt with visiting St. John’s would be cancelled, reducing Xavier’s agenda to five games. Including match ups with the aforementioned St. John’s, in addition to Northern Kentucky and Indiana, the Musketeers posted a 3-2 record, finishing the weekend with back-to-back victories. In Tuesday’s duel with Northern Kentucky, future Rafter Damien Richard was selected to start for Xavier and did not disappoint. The sophomore earned his third win of the season by firing six innings of one-run, three-hit baseball, while striking out four hitters. Richard would follow his latest solid start with a strong effort in relief over the weekend, earning another victory and holding St. John’s to just one run in 4.1 innings. Through 40 innings, Richard’s ERA now sits at 3.38 and his record has improved to 4-2. The sophomore’s teammate, Garrett Schilling, offered yet another chapter in his breakout season as the Musketeers’ closer. In three appearances, Schilling was a perfect two-for-two in saves, as he worked four innings, scattered three hits, and struck out a trio. Schilling’s ERA continues to plummet as he has lowered it to 1.35 over 26.2 innings, spanning 17 appearances. Most importantly, the sophomore has notched eight saves for Xavier, locking down half of the team’s victories.
To this point in the season, the Northeast has been largely dominated by Canisius College, as the Griffins sit in second place in the MAAC after sweeping four more games this past week. Junior right-handed pitcher Josh Shepley, who has continued to work on improving his consistency, dazzled in Friday’s series-opening shutout against Iona. In his career-best performance, Shepley turned in eight innings of scoreless work—his longest outing of the year—and scatted just two hits and three walks, while striking out five. The victory improved the hurler’s record to 2-4 and dropped his ERA to 4.47, as he has struck out 39 in 48.1 innings. Canisius infielder and fellow Rafter signee Jake Lumley also enjoyed a fruitful week for the Griffins, starting all four contests and piling up five hits. The weekend was characterized by a pair of highlights for the Canadian, represented by a three-for-four outing in the series opener and a home run in Sunday’s finale. Through 39 games, Lumley’s .294 batting average ranks second on the team and his totals of 31 runs scored, two home runs, and 23 RBI all place him in a tie for first on the Griffins’ squad.
In the Pacific Northwest, the University of Washington has taken advantage of a weaker than expected Pac-12 Conference to position themselves for a possible NCAA regional berth come season’s end. The Huskies continued their solid season with a trio of wins in five games last week, sweeping the final three. Washington’s pitching staff—handled by future Rafter catcher Joey Morgan—dominated throughout, holding their opponents to just 10 total runs. At the plate, the sophomore reached base in all five games, totaling four hits, four walks, and a hit by pitch. While the week was unspectacular for the Oregon native, Morgan continues to lead the Huskies with a .315 batting average and 11 doubles, while also smashing three home runs, driving in 18 runs, and scoring 18 times.
Following a midweek loss to in-state opponent VCU, the Cavaliers offered Virginia fans quite an exciting weekend, traveling to Coral Gables for a three-game set against the nation’s top-ranked team, the Miami Hurricanes. In the process of taking two-of-three from their hosts in the Sunshine State, the Cavaliers positioned themselves for a potential run to defend their national championship. As a fixture in Virginia’s lineup, true freshman Doak Dozier appeared in three of the four games, getting hit by a pitch, notching a base hit, and driving in a run. The week moved the Texas native’s batting average to .216 and his RBI total to six, accompanying his pair of home runs. Unlike Dozier, future Rafter Jon Meola did not log action against VCU or Miami, as he has entered action just five times for the defending national champions.
Not far from the site of Virginia’s successful tilt against Miami, Bethune-Cookman played a quartet of contests in the state of Florida and posted a 3-1 record. Highlighted by a three-game sweep at home over N.C. Central, the Wildcats improved their record in the MEAC to 12-6, as they look to earn a postseason bid. Returning Rafter infielder Demetrius Sims enjoyed one of his most productive weeks of the season, categorized by an unprecedented power surge. After 88 career games at the collegiate level without a home run, Sims channeled his inner power-hitter by connecting on long balls in each of the week’s first two games. At the week’s close, Sims finished with a .333 batting average (5-for-15), two home runs, a pair of doubles, three runs scored, three runs batted in, and two stolen bases. Sims elevated his batting average to .253, as the redshirt sophomore has now bashed two home runs, driven in fourteen runs, scored 24 times, and stolen successfully eight times.
Reeling from a Tuesday night drubbing at the hands of the SEC’s Auburn Tigers, Alabama State took to the road for a three-game series against Mississippi Valley State to unleash their frustrations. The Hornets posted a margin of victory that approaches the realm of the unbelievable, having outscored their hosts an astounding 50-1 in three games. After shutouts of 12-0 and 10-0, Alabama State brought the weekend to a crescendo by pulverizing Mississippi Valley by a count of 28-1 on Sunday. Versatile sophomore Joseph Estrada came off the bench in three of the four games for the Hornets, walking once, being hit by a pitch, scoring a run, and collecting an RBI. Estrada has now scored 10 runs in addition to having hit a home run and pushed across four RBI.
Just days after being announced in the latest wave of Rafter signees, outfielder Brandon Polizzi took the field for Cal State Dominguez Hills in a four-game home-and-home series with Cal State San Bernadino. The weekend proved to be a struggle for the Toros, as they managed just one win in the four games and concluded the weekend on a three-game skid. Polizzi, a sophomore, battled through a quiet week in which he managed just two hits in thirteen at-bats. The California native, however, found other ways to impact the game, as he drew a trio of walks, scored a run, drove in two runs, and stole three bases. In 42 games, Polizzi now owns a .366 batting average and 37 runs scored coupled with 16 RBI and 14 stolen bases.
Rounding out the week’s action, SIU-Edwardsville hosted four games, including a midweek affair with Western Illinois and a three-game conference clash with Morehead State. The results fell short of the Cougars’ hopes as the squad was successful in picking up just one win, a shutout victory over Morehead State on Friday. Offense seemed to evade the Cougars consistently throughout the week, as they never scored more than two runs. Like his teammates, Dustin Woodcock trudged through a difficult week in the batters box, notching just one hit—his third home run of the season—in fifteen at-bats. The sophomore managed to reach base on two other occasions via walks, drove in a run on Tuesday, and stole a base. In Woodcock’s follow-up performance to his Freshman All-American campaign last season, the outfielder is swinging the bat at a .289 clip, has driven in 17 runs, scored 15 times, and stolen a career-high three bases over the span of 35 games.
The home opener for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters is June 1st at 7:05 against the Green Bay Bullfrogs. Solarus Founders Club, bleacher 9-Game ticket packages, and group outing packages are on sale now. Call 715-424-5400 or stop by the Rafters Front Office Monday-Friday from 9-5 to purchase a ticket package or book a group outing.