Cougars Enjoy All-Star Experience

GENEVA, IL - A few weeks ago, there wasn't a lot to be thrilled about in Kane County, baseball-wise. Although you'd never know it from the Kane County Cougars average attendance, (the Cougars typically draw between 5,000-6,000 a game) the team was struggling in the Western Division of the Midwest League.

At more than 20 games below .500, manager Aaron Nieckula had few things to cheer about.

"At some point, we have to stop talking about what we need to do and do it," Nieckula said after yet another loss a few weeks ago.

In early June, the Cougars got some good news to brighten their rough season. Four of their players had made it on the Midwest League All-Star game roster. Though the team certainly deserved to have an all-star at the game -- it was hosted at their stadium after all -- nearly everyone was shocked that four players had been selected.

Closer Scott Moore spoke about his surprise after the announcement.

"I was really surprised, I didn't think I'd be an all-star," admitted Moore. "I really didn't think we'd have this many people on the team either."

CF Mike Massaro was really the team's only certain all-star. Massaro, who has frequented the league's top-10 list in batting average quite often this season, has also been a staple in centerfield, committing zero errors on the year.

"I was really excited to be selected as a starter," Massaro said.

"It's great to be here with the other guys in the league and play with some of the best players in the league."

The selection for Massaro was even better considering he missed most of the season last year due to an injury.

"I thought I would be back at Kane County after my injury shortened my season last year and to make the All-Star game makes it that much better to be back."

Jermaine Mitchell, an alternate on the Western Division All-Star team, was not an entirely unexpected selection, but it still was a surprise to some, including Mitchell himself.

"I started off really slow so I was skeptical about being selected," Mitchell said. "But when I found out I was happy. It's great to be named an all-star."

Mitchell has since backed up his selection on the roster raising his average to .295 on the season while fueling many of the Cougars' recent victories out of the three spot in the batting order.

The Cougars fourth and final all-star is SS Michael Affronti. Affronti, who has sat out the past week or so do to an ankle injury, was another surprise selection to the roster. However, since his selection, Affronti responded by hitting a key three-run home run in one of the Cougars' recent road swings that began to move the team in the right direction. But still, he was surprised.

"It was a little unexpected but it was a great honor and a great surprise," Affronti said.

Affronti's average of .264 was only the fourth lowest on the West squad, so it's tough to say he was the most surprising pick in the game.

Heading into the game, most of the Cougars had something to prove. Unfortunately, it wasn't a good night for the team as the three batters combined to go 0-5 on the night with only Mitchell reaching base on a meaningless walk in the ninth inning. As for Moore, he didn't fare much better. Entering the game with the third highest number of saves on the West squad, Moore struggled when he was called on in the ninth conceding two runs while only punching out one Eastern League All-Star.

Despite the lack of success in the game itself, the All-Star game news may have been the catalyst that the Cougars have been looking for all season. Since the Cougars found out about their four players being selected, they have been on a roll. Winning nine of their last 12 games, the Cougars own the best record in the league over the time-span.

While the Kane County All-Star performances were disappointing, there is still a lot of baseball to play. And though the players didn't have a game quite like they envisioned, it doesn't hurt them in the loss column.

"If we can start putting together games like we did at the end of the first half, we will be okay," Massaro said after the game.

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