After falling behind 4-0 in the top of the fourth inning, it appeared that the Kane County Cougars were en route to losing their third consecutive game to the Clinton LumberKings Wednesday night. However, thanks in large part to a big fifth inning in which the Cougars scored three runs to climb back into the game, the team erased an early deficit to defeat the LumberKings 6-5 in front of 4,296 at Elfstrom Stadium.
Cougars' pitcher Andrew Bailey struggled in his seventh start of the year facing runners in scoring position in every inning he pitched.
"Bailey had trouble controlling his fast ball today," Cougars' manager Aaron Nieckula Nieckula said. "He had a high pitch count and he was battling out there and I think he would say it wasn't one of his better outings."
After getting out of the first inning unscathed, Bailey put runners on first and second with two outs when 2B Jose Vallejo came to the plate.
Bailey got Vallejo to ground into what would have been the third out, but an error by SS Samuel Hernandez allowed DH Wally Backman, who had singled earlier in the inning, to come home. Following Vallejo, 3B John Whittleman hit another ground ball to Hernandez who overthrew 1B Greg Dowling for a second consecutive error. The error plated SS Marcus Lemon who had walked earlier and gave the LumberKings an early 2-0 lead.
"Those are plays are middle infielders make nine out of 10 times," said Nieckula about the errors.
Clinton struck again in the third inning as Bailey gave up three consecutive singles to load the bases. RF K.C. Herren, who hit the first single to start off the inning, scored when Bailey threw a wild pitch that C Gustavo Rosendo couldn't get in front of. However, Bailey minimized the damage striking out the next three LumberKing batters to only yield one run in the inning.
Bailey's evening came to an end in the fourth inning after issuing three more singles to give up another run making the score 4-0 in favor of the LumberKings. Bailey finished the day hurling 3.1 innings while giving up seven hits and allowing four runs (only two were earned).
LHP Derek Tharpe, who arrived from Stockton earlier this week, came in to relieve Bailey and retired the side without further damage. Tharpe continued pitching well for the Cougars throwing 3.2 innings of relief work allowing only one run in the sixth inning off a two-out RBI single by Clinton LF Chad Tracy.
"Tharpe threw some big innings and kept us in the ballgame," Nieckula said.
The Cougars finally struck in the bottom of the fifth inning. RF Toddric Johnson led-off the fifth with a single which was followed by a single from Rosendo. After LF Matt Sulentic hit a fielder's choice that resulted in Rosendo being thrown out at second, runners were on the corners for 3B Alex Valdez.
Valdez hit a grounder to Lemon but beat out the double-play attempt to plate Johnson. The play loomed large as CF Jermaine Mitchell would come to the plate next and hit a RBI double to left-center plating Valdez. 2B Larry Cobb would continue the two-out rally hitting a single up the middle to score the speedy Mitchell without a throw from the outfield.
"We've talked about timely hitting all year," Nieckula said. "Today we came up with big hits with runners in scoring position and took advantage of our opportunities."
Trailing 5-3 in the seventh with one out, LumberKings relief pitcher Brett Zamzow walked Mitchell. LumberKings manager Mike Micucci made a pitching change and called in Tim Gudex. Gudex's first batter was Cobb who singled to centerfield. In what would usually be a routine play, CF David Paisano misplayed the ball and allowed Mitchell and Cobb to advance to second and third.
1B Greg Dowling stepped in and hit a deep sacrifice fly to right field that easily scored Mitchell. With two outs, DH Haas Pratt delivered a bloop single to right field that scored Cobb to tie the game at 5-5.
Cougars' relief pitcher Jason Fernandez replaced Tharpe in the eighth and retired the size 1-2-3. In the bottom half of the inning, Johnson started the frame with a double. After Nieckula held a short conference with Rosendo, the catcher bunted to advance Johnson to third base. With one out and a runner on third, Sulentic came to the plate needing only fly ball to the outfield to plate the speedy Johnson. However, Sulentic went down on strikes for the second out of the inning. With two outs, Valdez stepped in and hit a shot up the middle that ricocheted off Lemon's glove and was scored as an error to produce the winning run for the Cougars.
Scott Moore came in the game in the ninth and retired the side to earn his ninth save of the year.
Gudex received his third blown save of the year and John Slusarz, who gave up the unearned run in the eighth, shouldered the loss for the LumberKings.
Fernandez earned the victory for the Cougars improving his record to 3-0 on the season. Johnson wound up with three hits on the day while Cobb, Dowling and Rosendo each had two respectively.
Vallejo had three hits for the LumberKings while Tracy, who had two RBI's on the day, had two.
The victory improves the Cougars record to 21-44 while dropping the LumberKings record to 39-24.
The Cougars wrap up their four-game series with Clinton tonight at Elfstrom Stadium at 6:30 p.m. In a late pitching switch, Henry Rodriguez (2-3, 3.51) is expected to get the start for the Cougars while Broc Coffman (5-1, 3.39) will take the mound for the LumberKings in the finale.
Live From Kane County: Cougars Mount Comeback
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