The Milton Junction Pub Raptors played their way into the thick of a tightening Rock River League South Division playoff race by bringing out their big bats during an 11-5 win at Johnson Creek on a cool, overcast Father’s Day Sunday.
A three-run, second-inning homer by McCauley Cox and five hits by J.T. Smithback led a 19-hit assault the Pioneers simply couldn’t overcome against Raptor starter Alex Marro. Marro followed up last week’s complete-game win over Clyman with seven solid innings against Johnson Creek to earn his second win of the season.
The victory left Milton with a 4-2 record in the RRL South and in a virtual second-place tie with four teams behind league-leading Hustisford, which suffered its first loss of the season Sunday at Clyman. Hustisford is 5-1; Clyman, 5-2; Milton and Neosho, 4-2; and Lebanon, 3-2. The top four teams qualify for the RRL South Division playoffs.
The Raptors host Lebanon Sunday at Schilberg Park in the first game of the season’s second round of play. The Raptors opened the season with a 2-1 loss at Lebanon.
“Things really tightened up this weekend with Husty and Neosho taking losses,” Raptors manager Doug Welch said. “We’re heading into the second round of league play and there are five teams at the top of the division separated by just a game in the loss column. Every one of those teams believe they can win the division.
“It’s going to be a tight race ‘til the end.”
On Sunday the Raptors saw their bats explode early and often against the Pioneers, a South Division playoff team last year.
Smithback, elevated to the No. 2 hole in the lineup, responded with five hits, including a double. Luke Malmanger, T.J. Klawitter and Marro each added three hits. Marro, who hasn’t had an at-bat at any level since the 2017 season, drove in three key runs early in the game.
But the big blow of the game was delivered by Cox after Marro’s sharp single plated Malmanger and Klawitter to stake the Raptors to a 2-0 lead. With Andy Haney and Marro aboard, Cox belted a deep drive to right that cleared the fence for a three-run homer.
The Raptors piled on five more runs in the fifth when Smithback began the inning with a single and Josh Shere split the gap in right-center with a double that went through the fence. Sam McCann followed with a two-run single for a 7-1 Raptors lead. Singles by Dan Haueter and Klawitter set up a bases-loaded walk by Haney and then Marro drove in two more with a single to center to make it a 10-1 game.
“It was great to see the offense click like that,” Welch said. “We had a lot of good at-bats and didn’t swing at pitches out of the zone. And on a day when the diamond played small with the thick grass and wind, we drove the ball to and over the fence a few times.
“We staked Alex to a lead and he thrives in that situation just by throwing quality strikes,” Welch added. “He makes it difficult for any team to play from behind.”
Marro struck out six in seven innings, allowed three runs, two earned, on four hits and walked two. McCann pitched the final two innings and struck out four.
The win was a bounce-back of sorts for the Raptors, who were defeated 9-1 Friday in the championship game of the Fort Atkinson Tournament.