RIDGEFIELD – Ten days removed from his last appearance with the Ridgefield Raptors, Safea Mauai was itching to get back on the field.
His return to the lineup from a hamstring injury just so happened to coincide with one of the Raptors’ most consequential games of the season thus far on Wednesday against the Corvallis Knights.
Batting seventh in the order, the BYU signee plated the Raptors’ first run on an RBI single in the fourth inning, before RBI base hits from Doyle Kane and Mikey Kane followed in each of the next two innings.
Those runs, combined with a shutout effort between starting pitcher Cooper Rons and four relievers, helped the Raptors to a 3-0 win and force a decisive series finale on Thursday in Corvallis, where the winner will clinch a playoff berth by winning the first half of the West Coast League South Division.
“Everybody here, we all just jell together,” Mauai said. “We’re a bunch of guys who just came in and we didn’t know anybody. … I’m glad that we all pieced together the team the way we did so quickly. Now we’re playing as a team, we know how to play with each other and get the ball rolling with each other. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Coming into the series, the Raptors needed a series sweep in order to win the first half of their division; they’re now two-thirds of the way there with an 11-1 road win on Tuesday followed by Wednesday’s shutout win at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
A Corvallis win on Thursday would give the Knights (17-8) first place outright in the south division. A win by Ridgefield (16-9) would knot the two teams with identical records and the Raptors would earn the tiebreaker by virtue of their head-to-head record.
“Our guys just come to compete every night,” Ridgefield head coach Chris Cota said.
“When they come and are ready to play, I mean, gosh, we’ve pitched the heck out of it for two nights now. We’re a pretty good ball club when we pitch, we’ve got a pretty good offense and when both of those and our defense plays well, we’re a tough team to beat.”
Five shutout innings from Cooper Rons gave Ridgefield the room to find its groove in the batter’s box. The fourth inning provided the first glimpse, with Doyle Kane and Will Chambers each hitting singles to start, before the next batter, Mauai, knocked a single to centerfield scoring Kane and giving Ridgefield a 1-0 lead.
“It’s been (almost) two weeks since I played, so I came out and was like, ‘You know what, it’s been a while since I’ve been in front of these Ridgefield fans, so let’s give them a show,’” Mauai said.
A few days before Ridgefield’s Father’s Day game against Cowlitz, Mauai pulled his hamstring. He was still able to play in that June 19 game, a 9-8 Ridgefield win, during which Mauai hit a pair of home runs with his dad Kapela watching from the stands.
Until Wednesday, he had played just one game since, June 26 against Victoria, while working his way back from the injury.
“I got that (Father’s Day game) out of the way and was like, ‘Let me take a couple weeks off, get this settled,’ and I came back out here and I’m 100 percent now,” said Mauai, who started his collegiate career at Hawaii, then entered the transfer portal and landed at BYU.
While the Raptors scored two more runs in each of the ensuing fifth and sixth innings, Ridgefield held Corvallis in check for the second time in as many days.
Rons faced an early challenge when an Ely Kennel line drive connected with his calf in the second inning, which prompted Cota to call for time and check on his starting pitcher. Rons walked gingerly around the mound for a few moments, but was able to stay in, even longer than Cota expected, in fact.
“It was his calf and it blew up,” Cota said. “He said, ‘I’ll finish the inning,’ then he said, ‘OK, I’ll go one more inning.’ Came back in (the dugout), said, ‘it’s tight, but (if), it’s a quick inning, I’ll go one more inning.’ We got all we could out of him.”
His outing ended to begin the sixth inning when Jacob Kokeny came on and pitched one inning. Three more relievers, Andy Evans, Eli Shubert and Michael Lozano each added one inning and kept the shutout intact.
As for Thursday, and a chance to earn a playoff berth with half of the season still to play, Ridgefield players and coaches said their approach will be the same as any other game.
“It’s just another game,” Mauai said. “Just got to come out and compete, and if you come out on top, let’s do it. Just got to keep it going, keep the ball rolling.”
Cota added: “You don’t want to change too much up. Just come ready to play, work hard, compete and play hard and see what happens.”
Taking one for the team – In the top of the second, Ely Kennel knocked a line drive off the left calf of Ridgefield starter Cooper Rons. The UC Santa Barbara pitcher stopped the ball and made the play at first. Rons hobbled around the mound for a few moments after, but stayed in for three more innings.
One more for good measure – Already with a 2-0 lead entering the sixth, Ridgefield got two runners on with two outs, setting up a Mikey Kane RBI single to score Nate Kirkpatrick.
Two scoops of Shubert – Corvallis threatened to score in the eighth inning when Jonah Advincula and Kiko Romero hit singles off of Ridgefield reliever Eli Shubert. The Lewis-Clark State pitcher responded by punching out a pair of Knights to get out of the frame without a run allowed.
Doyle Kane – Kane accounted for two of the Raptors’ first three hits, ultimately finishing 3-for-4 with an RBI and run scored.
Austin Caviness – Whether it’s a base hit, walk or hit by a pitch, the outfielder from Cal Poly has had a knack for getting on base. Caviness went 3-for-4 on Wednesday and raised his batting average to .352.
Cooper Rons – It was another efficient outing for the UC Santa Barbara pitcher, who threw 79 pitches (60 strikes) and battled with a banged up calf. Rons threw five scoreless innings with four strikeouts, three walks and two hits allowed.
1 – Combined runs for the Knights across the first two games of the series against the Raptors.
2 – Number of games the Raptors have won against the Knights in team history. Prior to Tuesday’s series-opening win in Corvallis and Wednesday’s 3-0 home win, Ridgefield was 0-14 all time against Corvallis.
3 – Shutout wins the Raptors have earned this season. They had three in team history going into the 2022 campaign, and have since doubled that figure nearing the halfway point of the season.
RIDGEFIELD 3, CORVALLIS 0
Corvallis 000 000 000—0 6 1
Ridgefield 000 111 00x—3 11 1
Pitching – Jesse Barron 4.1 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 K, 1 BB; Josh Emanuels 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 K, 0 BB; Rylan Haider 2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 K, 1 BB. Highlights – Jonah Advincula 2-5; Kiko Romero 1-3; Titus Dimitru 1-2; Tyler Quinn 1-3, 2B; Logan Johnstone 1-3.
Pitching – Cooper Rons 5 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 4 K, 3 BB; Jacob Kokeny 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 K, 1 BB; Andy Evans 1 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 K, 0 BB; Eli Shubert 1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 K, 0 BB; Michael Lozano 1 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 K, 0 BB. Highlights – Austin Caviness 3-4; Mikey Kane 1-5, R, RBI; Trent Prokes 1-4; Doyle Kane 3-4, R, RBI; Will Chambers 1-4; Safea Mauai 2-4, RBI; Nate Kirkpatrick R.