RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield Raptors have put themselves in a favorable position to clinch a West Coast League playoff berth.
Now, with the first half of their season wrapped up, the Raptors must play the waiting game.
Ridgefield (18-8) won four of six games last week (two each against the Bend Elks and Springfield Drifters) to finish the first half of its West Coast League schedule in first place of the South Division. The first-half winners in the North and South divisions clinch berths for the WCL playoffs in August.
However, two other teams in contention for the South Division first-half title, the Corvallis Knights (16-8) and Portland Pickles (14-7), still have three games left to play before they reach the midway point of their seasons.
As the WCL stated Monday afternoon in a post outlining the first-half playoff race, both Corvallis and Portland will need to sweep their upcoming three-game series to overtake Ridgefield.
Corvallis is on a road trip north of the U.S.-Canada border to face the Kelowna Falcons in a series starting Tuesday. Portland, meanwhile, plays at Ridgefield for a Tuesday-Thursday series, beginning with game one Tuesday, July 4. at 3:05 p.m.
Ridgefield needs to win one of three games against Portland to prevent the Pickles from claiming the first-half division crown, while also rooting for Kelowna to avoid a sweep against Corvallis.
According to the WCL, if both Portland and Corvallis finish with series sweeps on the road, Portland (.708) would have a slightly better winning percentage than Corvallis (.704).
The remaining 14 WCL teams who don’t clinch a playoff berth in the first half can reach the postseason by winning the second half in their divisions, or by claiming one of four wild card spots awarded to the teams who did not win the first or second half with the best overall records over the entire 54-game season.
Week of the walk-off
In order to win two of three against the Bend Elks in a home series at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex, the Raptors went down to the wire to finish.
Ridgefield won the series opener on Tuesday, June 27, after playing to a 1-1 stalemate through nine innings. In the bottom of the 11th inning with a runner at third base, Bend relief pitcher Brynner Waiolama was called for a balk by field umpire Billy Yeager, allowing Ridgefield’s Nicklaus to jog into home plate for a Ridgefield walk-off win, despite being out-hit 10-5 by Bend.
More late-game heroics from the Raptors followed two nights later after they gave up five unanswered runs to Bend and trailed 5-4 in the ninth inning.
Two Ridgefield players who were slated to have the night off, Andy Allanson and Jack Salmon, ended up making the most consequential players of the game at the dish.
First, Allanson was tapped in as a pinch hitter by head coach Chris Cota. Allanson swung on the very first pitch against Bend right-hander Ty Schwaiger, and unloaded a solo, game-tying home run to the berm beyond right field.
With the bases loaded five batters later, Salmon, who subbed in midway through the game in place of injured centerfielder Quincy Scott, knifed a base hit through the middle of Bend’s infield for a walk-off, 6-5 win.
“Andy came in after a tough one (Wednesday), but we all have faith in him, we all trust him,” Salmon said after Thursday’s win. “He hit that bomb, and after that, we all just got fired up.”
Ridgefield dropped a 5-3 loss to Bend on Wednesday, which snapped its league-best, 11-game winning streak that was largely responsible for the Raptors’ climb up from the middle to the top of the South Division standings.
Following the series against Bend, Ridgefield won its first two games on the road at Springfield, before taking a 7-1 loss Sunday in the series finale.
Ridgefield infielder Jake Tsukada has played in all 26 WCL games so far this season, the only player on the team to do so. That streak appeared to be in jeopardy when the Raptors elected not to start him Wednesday against Bend, though Tsukada still made an appearance as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning and delivered an RBI on a sacrifice fly.
The University of Portland product also remains the team’s leading hitter with a .337 batting average and .438 on-base percentage.
In their own words
“We’re trying to get to that first-half championship. … Being college guys, we take a lot of pride in coming out and playing in front of the fans, because they do nothing but support us. We’re appreciative for everybody that comes out.” — Jackson Nicklaus, talking about Ridgefield’s chase for a playoff berth during the series against Bend.
The week ahead
Ridgefield’s week starts with the aforementioned series against Portland that will provide some clarity as early as Tuesday in the South Division first-half race.
Tuesday’s Fourth of July game is also one of Ridgefield’s promotional nights, “FREEdom Day,” in which a portion of the proceeds will help feed local families in need through Albertsons and Safeway’s “Nourishing Neighbors” program. The game is also one of Ridgefield’s Value Tuesdays ($3 general admission, concessions and domestic beer).
The Raptors won two of three games against the Pickles in a June road series that marked the start of their 11-game win streak.
Ridgefield will also host the Bellingham Bells in a three-game series beginning Friday. The Bells (17-7) are currently in contention for the North Division first-half title, but three straight losses have dropped them to second place, trailing the Wenatchee AppleSox (18-6) by one game entering Monday.
Bellingham outfielder Dean West, who’s committed to UCLA, is one of the top prospects in the WCL. West is currently ranked 98th by Baseball America in its list of top high school prospects for the upcoming MLB Draft, July 9-11.