The Milton Junction Pub Raptors finally had their opening day Sunday in Neosho on a day when the Raptors looked exactly like a team playing its first game.
The Raptors misplayed a couple of balls in the air that led to a four-run Rocket fourth and struck out 17 times in an uneven performance that resulted in a 7-3 loss.
“These weren’t first-game jitters,” Raptors manager Doug Welch said. “We are an experienced team and even our new guys have played an awful lot of baseball at high levels. I chalk this up to some miscommunication in the field because we simply haven’t been on a field together and to real bad timing at the plate because we haven’t seen any live pitching.”
The loss set the Raptors off on the wrong foot of a truncated season that will see a 12-game schedule in the Rock River League South Division. A yet-to-be-determined playoff format will follow.
“When you look at everything that’s gone on around us, we all feel fortunate to have the opportunity to play and we had a nice contingent of fans come up there for a look,” Welch said. “Other area leagues have shut down and by all accounts the Rock had a clean weekend of games, so that’s encouraging.
“We’re just going to have to feel our way through this from week to week and use some trial-by-fire to get better every game,” Welch said. “Wouldn’t you know we’d have an open week right after opening day?”
The Raptors have the July 4 weekend off before returning to RRL action July 12 at Helenville.
Despite the loss, Welch saw some encouraging signs Sunday. Newcomer Casey Stone pitched well enough to get a win but fell victim to a couple of long innings due to some Raptor miscues. Raptor veteran right hander Sean McCann returned to form, checking the potent Rocket lineup on one run over the final three innings after inducing a key fifth- inning double play to get out of a bases-loaded jam.
“Casey certainly pitched pretty well and deserved a much better fate,” Welch said. “And it was great to see Canner doing his thing on the mound after a couple of years away.”
The Raptors jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first when Kevin Raisbeck walked, stole second standing up and scored on a blast to right by McCauley Cox, whose ball one-hopped the fence for an RBI double. Cox scored on consecutive wild pitches.
In the fourth, the first three balls hit by Neosho went up in the air and could have been caught. That included a lead-off pop up that fell just to the south side of the mound. The miscue initiated a four-run Rocket inning.
“Those are the kind of plays that will be made as we get on the field more and guys start taking charge,”Welch said. “Those plays put so much more extra strain on a pitcher during a hot day.”
Stone lasted through one out in the fifth with the bases loaded. After a couple of walks issued by Trevor Foss, McCann came on and induced a hot grounder to Josh Shere at third. Shere fired home for one out and catcher Dan Haueter fired to first for the Raptors’ second inning-ending double play of the game.
The Raptors made it a 6-3 game with a run in the seventh. With one out, Raisbeck again walked and stole second standing up. After a walk to Drew Freitag, Shere delivered an RBI single to right.
But that was all the offense the Raptors were able to muster against starter Danny Llanas and reliever Zach Lauersdorf. Shere had three of Milton’s five hits, including a double. Cox and Jeff Jacobson also doubled.