RIDGEFIELD — By the time the Raptors return to Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex next week for the West Coast League playoffs, the hope is that they’ll be a well-oiled machine ready for the most important games of the season.
Thursday’s regular season finale at the RORC, an 8-5 loss to the Walla Walla Sweets, showed the Raptors are still a work in progress.
Ridgefield rallied to tie the game at 5-5 in the sixth inning on runs scored by Cole Sheehan and Jack Salmon on a sacrifice fly and error, respectively.
But Walla Walla broke the game open in the eighth on Aidan Espinoza’s go-ahead, solo home run. Two more runs scored on a Davis Mauzy RBI single and Ridgefield throwing error, which was enough for the Sweets to leave Ridgefield with a series win.
“A lot of the guys have been here for the whole summer, they’re getting tired but we’ve just got to grind through it,” said Ridgefield outfielder Henry Muench, who went 2-for-4 to lead the Raptors. “All the new guys, they’ve got to find their place. We’re going to figure it out, we’ve just got to keep going.”
Out of nine Ridgefield batters in Thursday’s order, four joined the team within the last two weeks including Muench, Jovan Camacho, Evan Leibl and Drew Townson. They’re part of a group of late-season additions who are filling out the roster to replace a handful of players who returned to their college programs.
So, in short, this Ridgefield team looks a lot different than the group who won the WCL South Division first half to clinch a playoff berth. But to Ridgefield head coach Chris Cota, the team has no excuses at this point in the season.
Thursday’s troubles started on the mound with starting pitcher Sawyer Parkin walking three batters in 2 1/3 innings before exiting in the third with an apparent arm injury. Combined with relievers Massimo Vega, Peysen Sweeney and Ryder Edwards, the Raptors had 10 walks and three hit Walla Walla batters. Combined with three errors, and being outhit by the Sweets 9-6, it was not a recipe for success.
“We’ve just got to throw strikes,” Ridgefield head coach Chris Cota said. “We walked them 10 times, hit them three times, didn’t play very good defense and didn’t hit the ball very well. So, when you have that combination, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.”
As the final regular season home game, Thursday was also “Fan Appreciation Night” at the RORC and a celebration of the 1,396 fans in attendance.
“The fans are amazing. They come out every night, especially tonight. It was really fun,” said Muench, who also played for the Raptors late in the 2022 season. “The group of guys we have this year, similar to last year, is one of the most fun group of guys I’ve ever played with.”
The Raptors are guaranteed at least one more home game on Wednesday, Aug. 9 during the WCL Divisional Series.
As the No. 1 seed in the South Division, Ridgefield will play a yet-to-be-determined opponent on the road Tuesday, before returning home Wednesday for game two, and if necessary, a winner-take all game three Thursday.
Before then, Ridgefield will wrap up the regular season with a three-game road series at the Corvallis Knights. As the six-time defending WCL champion, Corvallis should throw a challenge at Ridgefield to ramp up for the playoffs.
“It’s all going to be our mindset going into (the playoffs),” Muench said. “Right now, we’re feeling it, but we got to take it to the next level. Know that it’s going to be tough, but just grind it out as hard as we can.”
Unconventional runs – Despite not getting a hit, Ridgefield loaded the bases with a pair of walks and Walla Walla error in the bottom of the second inning, leading to a Drew Townson two-RBI double down the first base line. Jake Tsukada tacked on a sacrifice fly for a 3-1 Ridgefield lead.
Early exit – Ridgefield starting pitcher Sawyer Parkin signaled to the Raptors dugout after giving up a single early in the third inning. He exited with an apparent arm injury, which brought on reliever Massimo Vega. The right-handed pitcher allowed two runs on a wild pitch and Logan Meyer RBI single. Walla Walla tied the game at 3-3.
Breakthrough bomb – Aidan Espinoza’s go-ahead, solo homer proved to be the winning run for the Sweets, who added two more runs in the eighth inning to pad their lead.
Drew Townson – At the bottom of Ridgefield’s order, Townson (Bakersfield College) had a team-high three RBI, two of them coming on a double in the second inning.
Aidan Espinoza – In addition to the home run, the UCLA product finished 3-for-5 with two RBI to lead the Sweets.
Henry Muench – A five-game hitting streak, including four straight with multiple hits, has the University of Portland player in a good spot heading into the stretch run of the season.
3 – Errors committed by both teams.
1,396 – Attendance for Ridgefield’s final regular season home game Thursday.
32 – Ridgefield’s season win total, which remains tied with the 2022 team for the most in franchise history. The Raptors’ road series against Corvallis gives them three chances to set a new record.