Rafters Host Express For World Series Opener
Wisconsin Rapids looks to take first game against North Division Champions
Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. – For the first time in franchise history, the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters (51-23, 2-0) are slated to host game one of the Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series on Thursday night. Following a thrilling 7-3 victory over the Battle Creek Bombers to advance to the league’s final series, the Rafters will clash with the North Division Champion Eau Claire Express (47-27, 2-0), who downed St. Cloud in 11 innings on Tuesday night to advance. Having already squared off four times this summer, the Rafters and Express have a degree of familiarity that is uncommon between clubs from opposite divisions. Using recent league history as a possible indicator of what is to come, Thursday night’s contest owns a paramount degree of importance in shaping the direction of the series, as the winner of game one has proceeded to win the series in each of the last seven seasons.
As they look to protect their home ballpark advantage, the Rafters will send left-handed thrower Gareth Stroh (Coffeyville CC) to the mound for his first taste of playoff baseball. Stroh, a native of Nebraska, has pitched well over the last month, having turned in three consecutive quality starts. In his last four outings, Stroh has posted a 3-0 record and a 2.25 ERA in 24 innings of work, notching 27 strikeouts and issuing just five walks. Across the entirety of the regular season, Stroh posted a 5-2 record and an ERA of 3.60 in 60.0 innings on the hill, striking out a team-leading 55 and walking just 13 batters. At the center of Stroh’s improvement has been an improved changeup, as the pitch’s development has coincided with his recent uptick in strikeouts. The left-hander will be tasked with controlling an Eau Claire lineup that has preferred hitting against left-handed pitching this summer, posting a batting average 20 points higher than that against right-handers. At the center of Stroh’s opposition will be outfielder Alex McKenna, who has dominated left-handers to the tune of a .410 batting average and five home runs during the regular season.
Countering Stroh for the Express will be right-hander Jake Sommers from UW-Milwaukee. Sommers, a freshman, has worked almost exclusively in a relief capacity this season, pitching in 11 games during the regular season and starting only twice. In addition to a 3-3 record, Sommers finished the campaign with 22 strikeouts and 23 walks in 33 1/3 innings of labor. The Wisconsin native will be charged with quieting the Rafters’ bats that have erupted in the first two games of the Northwoods League Playoffs. With a .413 team batting average and an average of 13 runs per game over their first two contests, the Rafters have outscored their opponents 26-6. While Stroh has no experience pitching to Eau Claire, Sommers owns 3 1/3 innings of head-to-head competition against the Rafters, after he absorbed the loss in the Rafters’ 11-8 win over the Express on August 1.
First pitch at Witter Field is scheduled for 7:05 PM with gates opening to the general public at 6:05 PM.
The Wisconsin Rapids Rafters are a member of the finest developmental league for elite college baseball players, the Northwoods League. Playing its 23rd 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 150 Northwoods League players have advanced to Major League Baseball, including Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer (WAS) and MLB All-Stars Chris Sale (CWS), Jordan Zimmermann (DET), Curtis Granderson (NYM), Lucas Duda (NYM) and Ben Zobrist (CHC). All league games are viewable live via the Northwoods League portal. For more information, visit www.raftersbaseball.com or download the new Northwoods League Mobile App on the Apple App Store and set the Rafters as your favorite team.