OGDEN — It would be disingenuous to say the Ogden Raptors haven’t played poorly at times in what has been an uneven second half of the season.
Nonetheless, the team that won the Pioneer League South division’s first-half title is starting to make a push in the bunched second-half standings.
A crucial homer from Jeremy Rathjen salvaged a good performance from starting pitcher Luis Meza and earned the Raptors a 5-4 win over the Missoula Osprey on Thursday evening at Lindquist Field.
Ogden (13-12, 33-29) has now won seven of its last 10 games, and after division-leading Orem’s loss to Great Falls, the Raptors sit just a half-game out of the division lead with 13 games left in the regular season.
Having won the first half title, the Raptors have a playoff spot waiting, no matter the result of the final 13 games, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to take the second half just for good measure.
“Our priority right now is to take every game we can and win,” said Raptors manager Damon Berryhill. “We hit a spell there in the start of the second half where we went a little but flat ... but we’re trying to get to the playoffs on a positive note.”
Interestingly, the Raptors still sit in last place, despite their recent surge, as all four teams in the division are within a half-game of each other.
After the Raptors lost the lead when Socrates Brito hit a two-run homer off reliever Jason West in the seventh, Rathjen led off the bottom of the inning with a blast of his own, over the left-field wall, putting Ogden back up by one.
It was Rathjen’s third homer in as many days and his second game-winner of the series. On Tuesday, Rathjen beat the Osprey (14-11, 32-31) with a walk-off homer in the 10th inning.
Meza made his first start for the Raptors and went five innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on four hits.
The right-hander had previously thrown seven innings in five appearances out of the pen, and his good outing was a welcome change for the Raptors, who had given up 26 runs in the first three games of the series.
“We needed five innings out of him, and he gave it to us,” Berryhill said. “By far the best outing of the season from him. For the most part, he threw quality strikes, got ground balls and worked ahead in the count.”
Jesus Valdez’s two-run double with two outs in the first gave Ogden the lead, and the Raptors added two more in the second.
The Raptors begin a three-game series with the Billings Mustangs tonight, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. at Lindquist Field.