Kane County Notebook: A New Season Commences

Good pitching and young mistakes are the things that marked the first week of Kane County Cougars baseball in 2010. In the double-header that opened the season, it was young mistakes that cost the Cougars. Good pitching and lots of offense in the last two games have meant two wins. David Malamut takes a look at the Cougars' first four games inside...

Outfielder Rashun Dixon, who is only 19 years old, has been a highlight offensively for the Cougars. He had a triple in the first game of the season, along with a walk and a stolen base. In the second game, he had two hits, including a double. In the third game, he had two hits, two runs and a run driven in and on Sunday he had an infield single and a walk.

The first game of the season was snowed out in Appleton, Wisconsin, so the Cougars had a double-header on Friday and they would lose both end of it. In the first game, they would make two errors. The Timber Rattlers had major league Jeff Suppan on rehab to start for them. The Cougars got seven hits and one run off of Suppan. He was able to get out of a bases-loaded, no-outs situation, this is after allowing one run in the inning.

In that game the pitching really wasn't that bad. Jonathan Joseph started and went three innings, giving up three hits and one run. He had one walk and four strikeouts. His major problem was three wild pitches. The defense didn't help much either, as Max Stassi and Michael Gilmartin both made errors. Ian Krol came in and cruised for the first two innings of his outing. Then he gave up a run in the sixth and a run in the seventh.

The Cougars would draw five walks in the game. They stranded nine runners on base, and hit into two double plays, both that ended innings. The also stole two bases.

The second game of the double-header, the Cougars would lose 6-3. The impressive thing is that they scored first and then came back in the seventh for another run, not giving up. Robert Gilliam started and didn't fare that well, as he lasted into the third inning, giving up four hits and five runs. He walked three and had a wild pitch. His main problem was the third inning as the Rattlers would score four times in that inning. An error by catcher Chris Affinito and two walks led to two sacrifice flies.

Connor Hoehn would pitch the next 2.1 innings, and he pitch pretty well. He gave up two hits and one run, the one run came in the fifth inning. After the run, he had a runner on first and no outs. The runner would eventually get to third but would be stranded. Hector Garcia came in for the sixth and give up a walk and hit a batter.

This time the Cougars would strand seven runners. In the seventh inning, Dixon led off with a double off the left field wall. One out later, Connor Crumbliss doubled him home.

The offense came alive in the third game of the season and series against Wisconsin. The Cougars would win, 10-5. They scored five runs in the fourth inning to get the lead. Two Wisconsin errors helped in the inning, plus a Dixon double. In the fifth inning they scored twice more. Stassi, who is also only 19, hit his first professional homer in the seventh inning, to the opposite field.

The problem in the game is that they almost let the Rattlers back in the game. The Cougars scored five runs in the fourth and two in the fifth, but then the Rattlers would score five runs in the fifth and sixth. Daniel Straily pitched well. He went five innings giving up five hits and two runs. He walked one and struck out six. The highlight for him was in the fourth inning. He had the bases loaded and one out. Straily would then strikeout the next two hitters to get out of the inning without giving up a run.

Bo Schultz had some trouble in his two innings of work. He entered the game in the sixth and hit the first hitter and walked the next. In the inning, he would give up three runs. After that inning, he came out and had a perfect seventh inning. Josh Lansford and Jose Guzman both pitched well in their respective innings of work. Myrio Richard had two doubles, driving in two runners. Kent Walton, Rashun Dixon and Tyreace House both scored twice.

In the final game of the first week of the season, the Cougars greeted the Burlington Bees at Elfstrom Stadium for their home opener on Sunday. The Cougars would win, 9-1. Chris Mederos pitched very well. He went six innings, giving up four hits and one unearned run. He threw 80 pitches. Mederos did have some trouble in the game as he had to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning. Garcia and Lansford both pitched well out of the bullpen.

The Cougars would ride a six-run seventh inning to victory. In the inning, Kent Walton would hit a grandslam onto the deck in left field. In all, he had two hits and five runs batted in for the game. In that inning the Cougars would draw four walks and send 11 men to the plate.

News and Notes

Reliever A.J. Huttenlocker has a sore shoulder and is listed as day-to-day. Huttenlocker and catcher Juan Nunez are the only two players who have not played yet this year, with left-hander Justin Marks scheduled to start the game on Monday.

Next week the Cougars continue their series against the Burlington Bees (Kansas City Royals) through Tuesday. On Wednesday, they host the rival Beloit Snappers (Minnesota Twins) for three games. Then on Saturday, the Cougars welcome the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Anaheim Angels) for three games before hitting the road for six games in Peoria (Chicago Cubs) and Clinton (Seattle Mariners).

Manager Aaron Nieckula on the 2010 Cougars

Note: these comments came before the Sunday game

On how he sees the team:

It's only been three games, but we have a group of individuals who play together and play hard, guys that respect the game. I think that from what I saw in spring training, this is a team that is pretty good on defense, got some speed, got some instincts on the bases, and a pretty good young pitching staff.

On teaching with such a young club [four players under the age of 20]

Any level of ball you're going to teach, but obviously with the younger kids on the team you're going to have to teach a little bit more, be a little more patient, wait for their development. It's all part of the process, as long as they come out, work hard, come out to play and ready to practice, and perform, then their growth and maturity shouldn't be a problem.

Learning from last years experience in Stockton

Any years as a coach or manager you're going to learn, things about yourself, things about the game, things about your teams, any year you're in ball, doesn't matter if you're a first year coach, or a 31st year coach, you try to learn from your success and learn from your failures, and learn from others, other coaches and managers around the league. And if we can just go out there and play the game come to work everyday ready work ready to practice, let the chips fall where they may, and see what kind of season we may have.

About the Author

David Malamut has been covering the Cougars since 1998, with his own website, (http://malamut.net). He has also wrtiten a book about the Cougars, "Baseball In Kane County Cougars" (Arcadia/2005). For daily updates on the Cougars, go to his website (http://malamut.net) or follow him on Twitter (http://twitter.com/davidmalamut) for in game news and notes. Plus follow his blog (http://davidmalamut.blogspot.com)

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