The Rock River League postseason begins Saturday, but the Milton Raptors have been in ‘playoff mode’ for several weeks already.
They needed to win their final four games and major help just to snag the last of four playoff spots in the Rock River League’s Southern Division.
Everything fell the Raptors’ way in the end. And now, they might be the most dangerous team in the field.
“The work was cut out for us, but we stayed focused on the task at hand,” Milton manager Doug Welch said Tuesday evening. “This is the most fun time of the year. This is why you play all season.”
The Raptors open the Rock River League postseason at 1 p.m. Saturday against Southern Division regular-season champion Hustisford. Clyman and Neosho will play at the same time in the other semifinal.
First-round winners and losers will play Sunday. Whoever escapes the double-elimination tournament will face the survivor of the Northern Division in the Rock River League finals.
The Raptors are seeded fourth, but they have as good a chance to advance as anyone. During the regular season, they split two games with Hustisford, losing 13-12 on July 14 and winning 5-4 on July 27, swept both meetings with Clyman and lost twice to Neosho.
Some late-season additions have brought stability to Milton’s lineup. Kade Bohlman, a 2018 Janesville Parker graduate, owns a mammoth 1.750 OPS (on-base plus slugging) since joining the Raptors, while Noah Berghammer, a 2018 Janesville Craig graduate, has posted a 1.404 OPS since joining the team in early July.
“Those guys are on-base machines,” Welch said. “They both have great approaches at the plate—they draw a lot of walks, they drive the ball. They’re on base all the time.”
With Bohlman and Berghammer locked into the top two spots in the batting order, other solid players like J.T. Smithback (.483 OBP) and McCauley Cox (.516 SLG) have been pushed further down, deepening the Raptors’ offensive potential.
“It’s transformed the lineup and made us a whole different team,” Welch said.
Hustisford, which led the Southern Division in scoring, batting average and on-base percentage, represents a significant first-round test for the Raptors.
Derek Merkes (.520) and Aaron Roeseler (.508) ranked first and second, respectively, in the Southern Division in batting average among players with at least 20 at-bats. The Astros averaged 10.4 runs per game—well ahead of No. 2 Clyman (7.9 runs per game).
Milton is 0-2 at Hustisford’s Village Park since the Astros joined the Southern Division in 2018.
The Raptors and Astros combined for five home runs and 37 hits July 14 at Hustisford.
“They’re pretty well-stocked with hitters,” Welch said of Hustisford, which led the division with 14 home runs. “They do take advantage of their short porch in left-center and left. You’ve got to try and keep the ball in the park.”
Albion, Evansville to meet for third time
The Albion Tigers have known they would be playoff-bound since July 14. They clinched the Home Talent League Southeast Section title a week later and then coasted to the finish, dropping a pair of meaningless games to Fort Atkinson and Cambridge.
A semifinal matchup with local rival Evansville should help the Tigers regain their focus.
“In the last couple weeks, especially after beating Waterloo when we wrapped everything up, I think we lost a bit of our edge,” Albion manager Matt Towns said Tuesday.
The Tigers will host the Jays at 1 p.m. Sunday. Albion beat Evansville twice this season, though both games were decided by one run.
“As if playing Evansville for a third time wasn’t enough to get our attention, knowing what we’re going to face with (Jameson) Lavery and (Ryan) Cashore and (Trevor) Aasen is,” Towns said.
Evansville’s playoff fate was up in the air until Sunday, when it defeated Fort Atkinson to sew up the fourth seed in the Southeast Section on the final day of the regular season. Led by the pitchers Towns listed, the Jays gave up the fewest runs in the Southeast Section (36).
Lucas Gregory (1.288 OPS), Adam Gregory (1.018 OPS) and Jesse Appel (.842 OPS), among others, are holdovers from the 2016 Albion team that won the Home Talent League championship. They continue to play key roles for the Tigers, who outscored opponents 118-73 en route to a 16-9 (13-3 Southeast) record during the regular season.
“We’ve got guys who are proven winners in this spot,” Towns said. “They’ve been champions.
“I know we’ll be confident and ready come Sunday.”
Stoughton and Jefferson will play in the other Southeast Section semifinal Sunday. Albion defeated both teams during the regular season.
The semifinal winners will meet the following weekend in the section title game.