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Raptors Notebook: Ridgefield looks for early-season consistency at plate

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 10, 2024, 8:05pm
2 Photos
Ridgefield Raptors players line up during the national anthem before a season-opening exhibition game against the Cowlitz Black Bears on May 30 in Ridgefield.
Ridgefield Raptors players line up during the national anthem before a season-opening exhibition game against the Cowlitz Black Bears on May 30 in Ridgefield. (James Rexroad/for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — The sample size is now large enough to suggest the Ridgefield Raptors’ early struggles at the plate may be more than an aberration.

Ridgefield (2-6) lost back-to-back series to the Edmonton Riverhawks and Bellingham Bells in its first full week of the West Coast League season, though the team avoided a sweep in the latter series with a 5-4 comeback win at Bellingham on Sunday.

The five runs scored was a season high for a team still trying to find its rhythm at the plate. The Raptors rank last out of 16 WCL teams in several offensive categories, including batting average (.159), on-base percentage (.261) and slugging percentage (.196). They’ve also struck out 84 times in eight games, the second most in the league behind the Springfield Drifters’ 86 strikeouts.

“We just need to keep working, have better at-bats and square up some more baseballs,” Ridgefield head coach Chris Cota said June 4 after a 13-4 loss to Edmonton.

Ridgefield bookended its week with a pair of victories, starting with a 3-2 win over Edmonton in the series opener on June 3 before dropping four straight. That included two games at Bellingham in which Ridgefield was held to a combined one run and six hits.

The Raptors scrapped their way to a win in Sunday’s series finale, coming back from three runs down to tie the game in the sixth inning on a bases-loaded walk taken by Jack Salmon, an Austin Stalwick RBI single and a Justin Stransky run scored on a wild pitch.

Isaiah Chacon provided the winning run on an RBI base hit in the 10th inning and relief pitcher Ryan McClaskey put together three scoreless frames to give the Raptors some much-needed momentum heading into a new week.

Catching depth gives Raptors a boost

Chacon (Mt. Hood Community College) is one of a few Raptors players contributing behind the dish who also offer versatility at other positions.

Both Chacon and Luke Iverson (Utah Valley) have split time between catcher and outfielder in the early going this season. Iverson, who’s appeared in all eight games with the Raptors, is hitting .240 with a team-high three doubles, one home run and three RBI. He estimates he’ll spend most of his time behind the plate in Ridgefield this summer.

“My primary position is catcher, and obviously that’s a little more wear and tear on the body,” Iverson said. “I think you’ll see probably a 75-25 (percent) split there … maybe 50-50, we’ll see.”

Ridgefield also welcomed back Stransky, a second-year Raptor from Fresno State, ahead of its series against Bellingham. The catcher reached base in 6 of 10 plate appearances with three hits across three games. Stransky was also a key contributor during Ridgefield’s run to the WCL South Division first-half title last year, hitting .337 with 10 RBI, eight doubles and seven stolen bases in 28 games played.

The position has traditionally been a strong point for the team with players such as Jacob Sharp, Isaac Lovings, Riley McCarthy, Cole Sheehan and Stransky making an impact in the last two seasons.

In their own words

“I think it’s a special group, because there’s a lot of, in baseball, what we call ‘glue guys’ on this team. Guys that are easy to get along with, guys you can talk to and (say), ‘OK, these are not only my teammates, but my friends.’ It’s a group of buddies, definitely, so it’s easy to work together and have fun.” — Luke Iverson, talking about the process of Raptors players getting acquainted early in the season.

The week ahead

Ridgefield will host the Yakima Valley Pippins (5-4) for a three-game series starting Tuesday before playing two exhibition games against the Raptors’ feeder team, the NW Star Nighthawks, on Saturday and Sunday.

The Pippins’ potent lineup could pose a challenge for Raptors pitchers with five players hitting above .300, led by Preston Allen’s .417 average with three doubles and six RBI. He hit a walk-off RBI single in a 6-5 win June 7 against the Corvallis Knights, the seven-time defending WCL champions.

One day prior, the Pippins put up 22 runs in a win over Springfield.

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