The Kane County Cougars improved to 8-28 on the season as four different pitchers combined to strike out a season-high 15 batters en route to defeating the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 3-0 on Monday night.
Craig Italiano, who entered the game with a 0-3 record and 15.07 ERA, was having a terrific game striking out five of the first 10 batters he faced before taking a nasty line drive to the forehead. Thankfully, Italiano was able to walk off under his own power and was taken to the hospital soon after.
Cougars manager Aaron Nieckula reflected later about the scary situation.
"By the time you release the baseball, 50-something feet away, and at the rate of speed those balls come off the bat at this level, you don't really have any time to react," said Nieckula.
Jason Fernandez took over for Italiano and picked up where Italiano left off, hurling 3.1 scoreless innings while yielding only two hits and striking out six.
"Jason came in and threw the ball extremely well," said Nieckula.
"That's what he's been doing for us for the most part this whole season. He's really taken advantage of his opportunities."
The Cougars offense struggled early until first baseman Greg Dowling hit a solo home run in the fourth inning. The homer was Dowling's fourth on the season and gave the team a one-run cushion.
"I've been seeing the ball well all season and just haven't been putting good swings on everything," said Dowling.
"I expected him (opposing pitcher Chris Tillman) to throw me a fastball when he fell behind and I just got the head of the bat on it and got it up into the wind."
The Timber Rattlers had their best scoring chance in the top of the fourth inning after an Andy Hargrove single was parlayed by a double from Danny Santin with just one out. After Fernandez hit the team's seventh batter Kalian Sams to load the bases, he got out of the inning by getting Kuo Hui Lo to ground into an inning ending 4-6-3 double play.
The Cougars added another run in the sixth inning on a Jake Smith blast. The home run was his first of the season and increased the lead to 2-0.
"I was just looking for something around the zone and Tillman threw it middle-in and left it up a bit and I drove it real far," said Smith.
A final run was added in the seventh as Jermaine Mitchell, who had singled earlier in the inning, was driven-in by a double from DH Toddric Johnson.
With the win, the Cougars hope to gain momentum and win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
"We have to go out and play consistently good," said Nieckula.
"You can play consistently bad, so it's not good enough to tell a team to be consistent. And to play consistently good takes discipline."
The team's next game is Tuesday as they continue their six-game homestand hosting Wisconsin again at 12 p.m. CST.
Andrew Bailey is expected to start for the Cougars, while Ricky Orta will get the ball for the Timber Rattlers.
Live From Kane County: Cougars v. Wisconsin
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