Live From Kane County: Cahill Strong Again

GENEVA, IL - Sunday's series finale between the Fort Wayne Wizards and Kane County Cougars at Elfstrom Stadium wasn't pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. Fighting off two errors and even more missed opportunities, the Cougars came away with a 2-1 victory over the Wizards and with it, won their first four-game series at home this season.

Though the victory certainly is great in Cougars manager Aaron Nieckula's book, he wasn't happy with the rocky performance.

"A win is a win, but we'd like to play well," Nieckula said. "In the big leagues a win is a win. In the minor leagues, we want to win and play well. This is about developing players, and if they don't play well even if they win, then it's not good."

The Cougars only amassed three hits on the day but still came out with a victory thanks in large to a terrific performance from the pitching staff.

"We only had three hits and committed two errors, so the pitchers did an outstanding job keeping us in the ball game and giving us a chance to win," Nieckula said.

Trevor Cahill (6-4) took the mound for the Cougars and looked to be in for a long day. For the second time in the series, Wizards leadoff hitter Javis Davis connected on a fastball and knocked it over the right field fence to give his team an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

However, after the home run, Cahill settled down and only allowed two more hits on the day to go along with seven strikeouts.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the first, the Cougars responded. With one out, SS Josh Horton walked and advanced to third base when he stole second and the throw from catcher Luis Martinez went into center field. After CF Jermaine Mitchell struck out, DH Sean Doolittle came to the plate and hit a huge two-out single to plate Horton and knot the game at 1-1.

Doolittle, who was batting in the fourth spot for the first time this season, took advantage of the opportunity. Nieckula, who originally said he wasn't ready to move Doolittle to the four-spot, claimed he could see the future after the game.

"I knew Doolittle was going to get that hit, that's why I moved him to the fourth spot," Nieckula said jokingly. "No, Greg Dowling was struggling a little bit in the four-hole so I wanted to bump him down a little bit so he could see more fastballs."

The Cougars would strike again in the bottom of the fifth as they put runners on first and second after Dowling and C Matt Smith were both hit by pitches thrown from Wizards hurler Drew Miller. After a balk advanced the runners to second and third, 2B Larry Cobb came to the plate. With one out, Cobb made contact on a 2-2 pitch and hit the breaking ball to 2B Jodam Rivera to plate Dowling and give the Cougars a 2-1 lead. Hitting the ball up the middle with a runner on third was something Nieckula has preached all season.

"We work on hitting the ball up the middle in batting practice because it's going to be an RBI nearly 100 percent of the time," Nieckula said. "Good things happen when you put the ball in play and put pressure on the defense."

The Wizards' best scoring chance came in the top of the sixth inning when they forced out Cahill with the bases loaded and nobody out. Nieckula called on relief pitcher Scott Moore who promptly came in and shut the Wizards down. Moore struck out the first two batters he faced then got Jesus Lopez to fly out to center field and preserve the one-run lead. Cahill, who was on line to get the victory, was certainly pleased.

"When I saw the bases loaded with no outs, I thought I was in trouble," Cahill said. "I told Scott I'd buy him dinner after he came in."

In most cases, pitchers hope to get out of that sort of situation with minimal damage. That certainly wasn't the mentality Moore had going into the game.

"When somebody goes out and pitches like Cahill today, I didn't want anyone to score," Moore said.

"I threw everything I had out there. I mixed up pitches and went in and out of the zone and made sure I didn't walk in a run. I knew I needed at least one strikeout and probably a double play to get out of the inning. Hopefully I make them put the ball in play and they hit it to someone."

After Moore's superb relief effort, Derrick Gordon came in and shut down the Wizards, hurling 1.1 innings of relief work giving up one hit while striking out two. Gordon boasts the team's lowest ERA at 1.83 and has continually been a shutdown reliever for the Cougars.

"Gordon came in and shut down a great offense," Nieckula said about his reliever's performance.

"If he can continue to do that, he'll continue to move up through the organization. If he can continue to do that at every level, he will experience the big leagues at some time."

Ahead 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth, Nieckula called on closer Andrew Carignan who has yet to give up a run so far this season in two innings of relief work. Carignan kept his stat sheet spotless, closing out the game for the Cougars and earning his second save of the season.

Winning one-run games isn't something the Cougars are used to. Heading into the day's game, the team was 7-20 in one run games. However, with the emergence of the bullpen and timely hitting the team has began to see an improvement in the past few weeks.

"We won the one-run game because we took advantage of some of their mistakes," Nieckula said. "Now we need to stop making silly mistakes. When you start making mistakes behind the pitcher, bad things will happen. Today, those mistakes didn't bight us in the butt, but they very well could have."

Added Moore, "If our pitchers give us six innings, the bullpen feels we can get take it in from there."

With the victory, the team's eight-game home-stand is over. They travel to Burlington for two games to take on the Bees before returning home for two games to finish up the four-game series.

Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories