APPLETON – It was far from a packed house Sunday night at Fox Cities Stadium, but the 566 fans that did show stood and cheered the same way they would have at Miller Park.
After all, it’s not everyday that you get to witness playoff baseball in Wisconsin. For many of these fans – it might be their only chance this year. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers did not disappoint as the team fired on all cylinders to beat the Clinton LumberKings in Appleton and secure a place in the Midwest League Championship.
Mark Williams took the mound in Appleton tonight – where only one year before he had helped his team win the Division III NCAA Baseball championships.
He may not have been the story in the beginning of the game, but he certainly was by the time he stepped off the mound. Williams quickly settled into a nice groove after the rocky start where he gave up two doubles and earned one run after a throwing error scored the first.
“Me and [Timber Rattlers catcher Rafael] Neda talked about leaving the ball up, and after that I settled down,” said Williams of his rocky first inning performance.
From then on, it was nothing flashy, just twelve straight LumberKings retired up until the fifth inning. Two runs in the first would be a tall order to keep ahead with Wisconsin’s offense.
Williams went deep into the game, throwing over 100 pitches in eight innings of work. It was the capstone of a series of impressive starts for Wisconsin during the playoffs. “It’s definitely contagious,…” added Williams about the plethora of high-calibur pitching, “you see someone throwing well…you don’t want to let them down.”
The continued dominance of the Timber Rattlers offense found themselves more than capable of keeping the Clinton LumberKings in check. It started early, with a towering two-run shot by Nick Ramirez in the bottom of the first that traveled (with some discussion) 408 feet over the wall in center field.
Max Walla kept the hurt on Clinton pitcher Soen Gi Kim with a double off the wall in the second inning, though nothing came out of it. The tie was finally broken in the fourth inning by Adrian Williams, the struggling second basemen, when a ball went straight back up the middle to bring Cameron Garfield in for the score.
Despite that, Kim put together a decent performance that would have given any team not up against
Williams a good shot to win, with four hits and five strikeouts scattered over 5 innings pitched.
But in the end, it didn’t matter who was on the mound – the Timber Rattlers put down the dagger in the seventh inning when Brandon Macias drove in Rafael Neda to put the score up to 4-2 Wisconsin – by running through the stop sign from his own manager and third base coach, Matt Erickson.
“Yeah, Neda did definitely run on [the stop signal],” said a high-spirited Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson after the game.
Despite what could have turned into a game changing play, Rafael Neda got a lot of credit, both from Mark Williams and Erickson after the game. “[Rafael Neda] has been so important to the success of this ball club. A lot of the reasons we’re winning these games are because he’s receiving the ball.”
“I’m just glad he did score,” added Erickson, laughing, “so we can all laugh about it now.”
There’s plenty of time for Wisconsin to laugh now, after beating the Clinton LumberKings in the Midwest League Western Division Finals in two games, the Timber Rattlers earned two off-days before the Championship series begins at home on Wednesday. First pitch is slated for 6:35 PM.