The Milton Junction Raptors wrapped up their 2019 season with a couple of close, tense and disappointing losses this past weekend at Hustisford and Neosho in the Rock River League playoffs.
On Saturday the Raptors traveled to Hustisford, faced an early 10-2 deficit, before coming back on the first-place Astros to eventually swallow an 11-9 defeat. Then on Sunday the Raptors dropped a 7-4 decision in Neosho and were eliminated from the four-team RRL South Division playoff field.
In Sunday’s other playoff matchup between Saturday’s winners, No. 2 seed Clyman went to Hustisford and pulled off a 5-1 win. The playoff tournament continues Saturday with No. 3 seed Neosho traveling to No.1 Hustisford for an elimination game. The winner will go to Clyman Sunday in the double-elimination tournament.
“We were really hoping to pull off one of these wins to get to next weekend when we feel as though we’d be more at full strength,” Raptors’ manager Doug Welch said. “We had guys banged up, on vacation and with school commitments. It wasn’t a good scenario for opening a two-game playoff weekend.
“We came in short on pitching and middle infielders. I don’t think anyone in the league is feeling bad for us on that note.”
On Saturday, the Raptors asked a start from veteran right-hander Sean McCann. McCann, pitching in just his third game of the season, was not sharp early and the Astros took advantage of a couple of Raptor misplays and three walks to score seven runs in the first two innings.
That took the starch out of the Raptors’ early first-inning strike when Josh Shere followed a one-out single by Noah Berghammer with a booming homer to right to put the Astros on their heels. The Astros then tacked on three more runs in the fourth inning to take a 10-2 lead.
“It was a pretty heavy request to put Canner in that situation against the league’s first-place team in a hostile environment,” Welch said. “Then we really didn’t help him defensively.
“But once he got lathered up he settled down and pitched like the Canner of old for the rest of the game.”
McCann allowed just one run on two hits from the fifth inning on to allow the Raptors to mount a comeback. In the top of the fifth, Berghammer highlighted a three-run inning by lacing a two-run single to right. Then the Raptors marked three more times in the top of the eighth and left the tying run aboard by leaving the bases loaded. Dan Haueter, Jeff Jacobson and T. J. Klawitter each had RBI singles in the inning.
Sam McCann belted a solo homer to left in the top of the ninth to close out the scoring.
“It was similar to our game up there a couple of weeks ago when they got us, 13-12,” Welch said. “That diamond plays like a softball park and they have a way of popping fly balls that carry out where they’d be caught in any other league park. They had a couple of those with guys on.
“But what we know is to not give up when you’re there and that’s what happened. We battled back and damn near got them.”
The Raptors had 16 hits on the day, including four by Luke Malmanger, three by Berghammer and two each by Shere and Jacobson.
On Sunday the Raptors dropped a 7-4 decision at Neosho, a loss that ended the Raptors season. Sam McCann pitched well enough to win but the Rockets had an answer each time Milton put up runs.
The Raptors broke a scoreless tie in the fourth when Haueter led the inning off with a double and scored on a sharp single by Andy Haney. But in the bottom of the inning, the Rockets took a 3-1 lead when Zach Lauersdorf gapped a two-run double.
In the sixth, a single by Klawitter and a double by Jacobson set up a two-run inning to tie the game but the Raptors left an opportunity go by when they left the bases loaded. Again the Rockets answered and took the lead with two runs in the bottom of the inning.
Haney’s sacrifice fly plated Sam McCann in the seventh to make it a 5-4 game but Neosho plated two in the bottom of the inning to put the game away.
“You have to hand it to them, every time we got a little momentum, Neo came right back and answered,” Welch said. “We never got that shut down inning you need after scoring a couple.”
The Raptors finished with 11 hits. Shere had three hits, including a double, and Haueter, and Jacobson each had two.