The Bees scored six runs with two outs and put the game out of contention late with four runs in the top of the ninth inning to earn their fifth victory in the second half. Cougars' manager Aaron Nieckula expressed his frustration over the team's season-long woes at the plate with runners in scoring position.
"It sucks," Nieckula emphatically said after being asked about the team's inability to knock in runs.
"We will continue to take batting practice and work with (hitting coach Benny) Winslow. More importantly, we'll try and get our hitters to visualize having success hitting with runners in scoring position."
Despite the loss, the Cougar's had three solo home runs on the day. 1B Haas Pratt belted his seventh and eighth on the year while DH Greg Dowling hit his seventh. The Cougars rank near the bottom of the Midwest League in home runs so the recent surge of long bombs has been a welcome addition to the team's arsenal.
"It's encouraging that our designated hitter and our first baseman are starting to hit home runs on a regular basis," Nieckula said. "That's the progress we've been talking about the whole season. In those positions, (1B and DH) you have to get RBI's whenever you have a chance to."
Henry Rodriguez took the mound for his seventh start of the year and despite a shaky first few innings, wound up with a quality outing hurling six innings of four-hit ball while giving up three earned runs. Rodriguez calmed down considerably after giving up two runs in the top of the third inning to retire the final nine batters he faced. A high pitch count forced Nieckula to pull Rodriguez after the sixth inning.
"We were a little skeptical early in the game because he was having command issues," Nieckula said about his decision to leave Rodriguez in.
"But he seemed to find his rhythm and get in a groove. He didn't really have great stuff tonight but he battled through. He's starting to learn how to pitch and not just throw."
The Bees struck first in the top of the first as a RBI single from SS Jeff Bianchi plated LF Joe Dickerson who had tripled earlier in the inning. The Cougars tied the game in the bottom of the second on the first of two Pratt home runs.
Pratt, who has consistently been looked upon by Nieckula to be an "RBI machine," has recently found his groove hitting four home runs in the past three games against Burlington.
"He's really stepped it up the last ten days," Nieckula said about Pratt's game. "He's put in a lot of hard work, made adjustments in his swing and approach and he's reaping the rewards. The most important thing he's done has been to maintain a positive attitude throughout the whole season. He has been a true professional in everything that he's done."
After loading the bases on two walks and a single in the bottom of the third, Rodriguez gave up his final hit of the game to 3B Michael Thompson which scored CF Derrick Robinson and Bianchi to give the Bee's a 3-1 lead.
The Cougars would climb back to a tie after Dowling and Pratt both hit solo shots in the bottom of the sixth inning to get Rodriguez off the hook.
However, the Bees would strike twice in the top of the seventh off reliever Inoel Deaza and wouldn't relinquish the lead. With two outs and runners on second and third, Deaza's pitch to Dickerson was lined into the outfield to plate RF Felix Peralta and Robinson.
The Bees would score four more times in the bottom of the ninth off both Deaza and closer Scott Moore to account for the final score.
Deaza shouldered the loss for the Cougars and dropped to 0-6 on the year pitching two innings in relief and giving up four earned runs. Ryan Di Pietro earned the victory for the Bees improving his record to an even 4-4 on the season. Di Pietro hurled six innings of seven-hit ball while surrendering three earned runs to match Rodriguez.
Dickerson and DH Brady Everett had multi-hit games for the Bee's with two hits apiece. Dowling, Pratt and C Gustavo Rosendo all had two hits for the Cougars in the losing effort.
The Cougars wrap up their four-game series against the Burlington Bees tomorrow hoping to even the series at two games each.
Cougars' ace James Heuser (6-2 2.90 ERA) will take the mound against Burlington Bees hurler Harold Mozingo (6-6 4.44 ERA).
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