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Oct. 6, 2022

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Ridgefield Raptors midseason review: Raptors carry momentum into second half of season

With five straight series wins, Ridgefield is well-positioned to make a run at the playoffs

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:

RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield Raptors are rolling into the second half of the West Coast League season with momentum on their side.

Five straight series wins helped the Raptors push toward the top of the WCL South Division standings, and they took an even bigger step this week with two wins over the five-time defending WCL champion Corvallis Knights, a team they’d previously gone a combined 0-14 against since 2019.

Corvallis went on to win Thursday’s series finale 4-1, clinching the first half title and No. 1 seed for the August playoffs. Ridgefield (16-10) will be a frontrunner for the South’s No. 2 seed, which is awarded to the team with the best winning percentage in the second half of the season.

The major difference this season in the WCL is the addition of two wild card spots in the North and South divisions as the league grew from 12 to 16 teams.

In each division, two teams will earn wild card spots and be seeded 3-4, matching up with the first-half and second-half division winners. The wild card teams will qualify based on best overall winning percentages for the full 54-game season.

Ridgefield earned its first postseason berth in 2021 as the No. 2 seed in the South. The Raptors were eliminated following two losses against Corvallis.

The second half of Ridgefield’s season begins Friday with a three-game road series against the Yakima Valley Pippins.

Through 26 games, and with 27 still to play, below is a rundown of the key players and moments that have defined the Raptors’ season so far.

Best win: July 5 at Corvallis

Perhaps this looks like a case of recency bias, but the Raptors’ first win over the Knights in team history is a worthy choice.

The visitors pounced early at Goss Stadium with two runs in each of the first two innings, and leaned on shutdown pitching from Ryan Harvey (UC Santa Barbara), Charlie Royle (Cal Poly) and Isaac Keen (West Texas A&M) in an 11-1 win.

That result set Ridgefield up for a series win the following night at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, ultimately ending in a 3-0 defeat of Corvallis.

“Our guys just come to compete every night,” Ridgefield head coach Chris Cota said following Wednesday’s win.

“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.”

Worst loss: June 14 vs. Edmonton

Ridgefield jumped out to a five-run lead in the final game of the series against the Riverhawks, then watched as it evaporated with a combined eight runs allowed across the seventh and eighth innings.

The Raptors used seven pitchers in the 13-12 loss, and four of them Keen, Gary Hall (San Jose State), Eli Shubert (Lewis-Clark State) and Aiden Vestbie (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical), were making their first appearances of the season.

As it turned out, the Raptors have won five series since the loss to Edmonton, with wins over Cowlitz, Victoria, Portland (twice) and Corvallis.

Breakout player of the summer: Jacob Sharp

Leading the WCL in home runs (six) and slugging (.701), Sharp (UNLV) has jolted Ridgefield’s offense at key moments this season.

None was more crucial than last week’s three-game home series against Portland. Sharp hit two home runs and scored the walk-off run on a wild pitch in the series opener, then homered again the following day to give the Raptors the lead for good to earn the series win.

Sharp primarily plays catcher in a rotation made up of him, Isaac Lovings (Pacific) and Riley McCarthy (Portland), but the Raptors have been creative in getting Sharp’s bat into the lineup more often, with occasional stints in the outfield and as designated hitter.

Player flashing potential: Safea Mauai

When healthy, the first baseman is one of the Raptors’ top hitters.

After pulling his hamstring in mid-June, Mauai (BYU) decided to play three days later, June 19, on Father’s Day and hit two home runs with his dad, Kapela, watching in the stands.

However, he played sparingly in the next two weeks to get healthy, then returned to the lineup in Wednesday’s win over Corvallis and went 2-for-4 with an RBI.

“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,” Mauai said Wednesday.

Even with a nearly two-week absence, Mauai is still tied for second on the team with 20 RBI and is hitting .314 in 13 games.

Top returners: Doyle Kane and Mikey Kane

The brothers who played for College of the Canyons under Chris Cota, the head coach, made a quick impression upon arriving in Ridgefield late in the 2021 season. They’ve picked up right where they left off.

Doyle Kane, who plays primarily first base and outfield, has the third best batting average in the WCL (.370) and second best on the Raptors behind Trent Prokes (.380).

Mikey Kane, a shortstop, is hitting .301 with 20 RBI, two home runs and nine doubles, which leads the WCL.

Other returners include Will Chambers (Utah Tech), who was last year’s home run leader in the WCL, and Lovings, in his third season with the Raptors.

Questions for the second half

Who, if anyone, will dethrone the Corvallis Knights?

Though Ridgefield broke through this week with a series win over Corvallis, the Knights have been at or near the top of the WCL standings throughout the first half.

It hardly comes as a surprise for the five-time defending WCL champions, who earned their most recent title over Yakima Valley in 2021.

Ridgefield, meanwhile, is well-positioned to make a run at the playoffs along with fellow South teams like the Portland Pickles and Bend Elks.

In the North, the Bellingham Bells have jumped out to a league-best 19-6 record.

Can Ridgefield sustain its recent pitching success?

That was one of the most pressing questions facing the Raptors coming into the season.

The team has improved to the fifth-best combined ERA in the league (4.31), and has already earned three shutout wins this season.

They have several quality starters including UC Santa Barbara’s Cooper Rons (0.64 ERA), Utah Tech’s Ben Hart (team high 26 strikeouts) and relievers like Jacob Kokeny (San Diego Christian) and Jeter Schuerman (Spokane Falls), who’s earned three saves in seven appearances.

Cota has given a lot of credit to pitching coach Tyler Raskin, who the head coach said is “really bearing down on them a little bit, and I think they’re getting better every time out.”

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