RIDGEFIELD — As their path to the postseason became increasingly clear, the Ridgefield Raptors didn’t leave anything up to chance.
Instead, the Raptors took control of Wednesday’s game against the Portland Pickles early and kept a firm grip on it until the final pitch of a 10-3 win at Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex.
While getting some help from a Corvallis Knights loss to the Kelowna Falcons the night before, Ridgefield knew it needed to win one of its final two games against Portland in order to win the West Coast League South Division first-half title and earn a spot in the August playoffs.
“These guys came to the yard today and said, ‘Let’s do this today and not wait,’” Ridgefield head coach Chris Cota said. “They had a mission and they played well.”
As a result of Wednesday’s win, they’ve clinched their third straight playoff appearance and will be the South Division No. 1 seed for the first time in team history.
“It’s a relief. We’re still going to play our best game, but just to know that we’re going to be in the playoffs is awesome,” said Ridgefield’s Jake Tsukada, who was part of the Raptors’ playoff run last season. “It’s pressure-free baseball from here on out in the regular season.
“Even though there’s a lot on the line, we all just want to show up and play games. It was a lot of fun, and to be with these guys means a lot to me.”
The sense of urgency was evident from the top to bottom of the Raptors’ batting order. It started with a pair of home runs — a two-run shot from Corey Nunez in the second inning, followed by a three-run Jack Salmon blast with two outs in the third — that gave the Raptors a 5-2 lead.
Ridgefield (19-9) added at least one run in each of the next four innings through the seventh to build a commanding 10-2 lead.
“One through nine, everybody did their job, pitching staff included,” Tsukada said. “That’s just the depth of our lineup, and if we can do that every game, we can win a lot of ball games this year.”
Camden Oram, Ridgefield’s starting pitcher, earned the win after pitching five innings with three strikeouts, no walks and five hits allowed. The only earned run Oram gave up came in the second inning when Luke Bard plated Jack Metcho on a base hit to give Portland (15-8) a 1-0 lead.
It was his first start of the season after appearing in eight previous games as a relief pitcher. Raptors catcher Justin Stransky was driving to the ballpark with Oram when he got a call from Ridgefield coaches, who informed Oram he would be starting. The pitcher’s reaction was indicative of the Raptors’ overall mindset coming into a monumental game.
“He was like, ‘All right, let’s go!’” said Stransky, also a teammate of Oram’s at Lower Columbia College. “He was ready. He’s been waiting for that opportunity and he got it. I think he shined tonight.”
The win marked a full-circle moment for Ridgefield at the halfway point of its season. Three weeks ago on June 13 against the same Pickles team, the Raptors suffered their most lopsided loss of the season, 11-1, and were two games below .500 in the bottom half of the South Division standings.
That result quickly became history, because the Raptors responded with 11 straight wins, which put them in position to clinch the first-half title and a playoff berth Wednesday against the Pickles.
“Honestly, I think it was just the guys getting comfortable with each other,” Tsukada said. “Once we got comfortable, we started playing well together. We just came out and had fun. And also, we don’t like losing.”
Even after the longest win streak in team history came to an end, the experience was transformative. According to Stransky, the Raptors developed confidence and belief they carry on a nightly basis.
“We had that can’t lose mentality,” Stransky said. “We’d be going down the stretch of a game and we wouldn’t even sweat, because we knew that we would end up getting that ‘W.” It still even feels that way, man … it still feels like late in a game we can pull it out.”
Three more playoff spots are up for grabs in both the North and South divisions — one for each second-half division winner and two additional wild card spots in each division for the teams with the best overall season records. In the South Division, the top teams behind Ridgefield are Portland, Corvallis and the Cowlitz Black Bears.
The Raptors, meanwhile, can exhale knowing a playoff spot is theirs, no matter how the second half of the season plays out. Of course, the team will still be playing to win, but now have the added flexibility of giving more playing time to bench players and additional rest to mainstays in the Raptors’ lineup.
“It will be nice to be able to make sure everybody gets a good amount of time playing,” Cota said. “Even the guys on the bench are good players, so it will be a fun second half.”
Ridgefield will finish its three-game series against Portland on Thursday, before hosting the Bellingham Bells for another home series starting Friday evening.