The Milton Junction Pub Raptors capped off an improbable run to the Rock River League playoffs with a dramatic 7-4 win in Clyman on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon.
A two-run, ninth-inning homer by McCauley Cox sealed the win that gave Milton a two-game season sweep over the Canners and it propelled the Raptors into the four-team RRL South Division playoffs for the eighth time in their 10-season league tenure. The win finished the regular season for the Raptors with a 9-5 record, tied for third place with Neosho.
As the No. 4 seed, the Raptors travel to No. 1 Hustisford (14-2) Saturday to open the double-elimination tournament and No. 2 Clyman (13-3) will host No. 3 Neosho. On Sunday, the winners play and the losers square off, paring the field to three teams.
“It’s an exciting time of the year,” Raptors manager Doug Welch said. “Everyone’s thinking about pitching matchups and possibilities. This is the third time this season everyone is playing one another. It’s why we do this thing we do.
“We had put ourselves into a situation a few weeks ago where we really didn’t control our own destiny and we had to beat the league’s top two teams and have a bunch of other stuff fall into place,” Welch said. “We were behind the eight ball because we didn’t hold the tie-breakers over Neosho and Lebanon, so we had to win out and finish a game ahead of one of them. That’s exactly what happened.”
The previous weekend the Raptors pulled off a two-game sweep of Hustisford and Farmington to move to 8-5 in league play with just Sunday’s game at Clyman remaining on the schedule. Lebanon, meanwhile, came into the weekend with an 8-4 mark with games against Clyman Friday and at Hustisfiord Sunday.
“Had Lebanon won either of those games, we’d be eliminated,” Welch said. “Clyman did us a huge favor by coming back from a 7-1 deficit to win on Friday. Then about 10 minutes after we got off the diamond in Clyman Sunday we heard that Husty beat Lebanon. There was much rejoicing.”
Lebanon also led Hustisford, 5-1, at one point Sunday but failed to close the deal and lost 7-5.
“It was an incredible set of circumstances, but everything fell our way this weekend,” Welch said. “We knew a few weeks ago we faced a heavy lift but it’s a credit to our guys to just stay focused on the task at hand and worry only about what we can control — which was to win.”
On Sunday the Raptors fielded a potent lineup that pounded out 11 hits, four for extra bases, against three Clyman pitchers.
Josh Shere’s first-inning double set up the Raptors’ first run of the day when Noah Berghammer scored on an errant pick-off play. Facing a 3-1 deficit in the fourth inning, the Raptors tied the game with two runs set up by a Sam McCann double. Luke Malmanger executed a run-scoring squeeze bunt to score JT Smithback and McCann scored on a wild pitch.
The Raptors took a lead in the fifth when Cox and Smithback worked a double steal.
Sixth-inning singles by Dan Haueter and Kade Bohlman set up an RBI ground out by Berghammer that gave the Raptors a 5-3 lead.
Raptor starter Alex Marro, meanwhile, navigated through some early tough luck and two Milton errors to hold a potent Clyman lineup to three runs through the first seven innings.
Then last year’s RRL home run champ Josh Oswald led off the bottom of the eighth with a long drive over the right-centerfield fence to make it a 5-4 game.
Shere led off the ninth with a long single off the right field fence. Cox, the Raptors cleanup hitter, was geared to drop down a sacrifice bunt when Shere alertly stole second base when the Clyman pitcher inadvertently went into a windup instead of working out of the stretch.
Cox belted the next pitch high over the right field fence.
“It was the damnest thing,” Welch said. “Josh took advantage of that little miscue, we take the bunt off and McCauley gets into one. It was kind of indicative of how the whole weekend went for us.”
Marro finished the ninth without allowing a baserunner to throw his second complete-game win of the season against the Canners. He struck out nine, allowed nine hits and walked four.
Bohlman had three hits, walked and was hit by a pitch to reach base five time from the Raptors’ leadoff spot. Shere and Cox each had two hits.