Kane County Notebook: Tough Competition

The Kane County Cougars faced some top competition this past week and came out of the battle playing well. David Malamut has the report.

The Kane County Cougars were 3-3 this past week against the top two teams in the division. They would finish the week off with a total record of 19-18, three games back in the division. Conner Crumbliss leads all of minor league baseball in walks with 42. Nino Leyja's team-best 10-game hitting streak came to an end on Saturday.

There were some great pitching outings by the Cougars last week, with Daniel Straily and Ian Krol both having great outings. Robert Gilliam leads the team in quality starts with five.

On Monday, the Cougars started a three-game series with the division-leading Beloit Snappers (Minnesota Twins). In the first game, the Cougars would lose, 8-7, in 10 innings. Tyreace House had three walks and four runs scored. Leonardo Gil had two sacrifice flies and a sacrifice bunt. He had two runs batted in and a run scored. The game-winning run would come on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch by Bo Schultz. This came after another hit-by-pitch and error and an intentional walk.

In the game, Krol started and went five innings, giving up six hits and two runs. The Snappers would get six runs off of the Cougars bullpen. Jonathan Joseph gave up two in an inning and two thirds. He walked three and gave up a two-run single. Ryan Quigley couldn't make it out of his inning, as he faced five batters and gave up two hits and three runs. He walked two and gave up a two-run single.

In the second game of the series, the Cougars would take it, 5-1. Straily pitched six innings, giving up three hits and one unearned run. He struck out six and walked one. Connor Hoehn and Josh Lansford had shutout appearances. House collected three walks and one run scored. Max Stassi hit a solo homer in the seventh.

The final game of the Beloit series was rained out, so the Cougars would then come home to face the Quad Cities River Bandits (St. Louis Cardinals), who are second in the division for a four-game series. In the first game, the Bandits would come out ahead, 5-1. Justin Marks had a pretty good outing. He went into the sixth inning, giving up seven hits and four runs. One of the runs was a run-scoring single in the first. A two-run single in the fifth would come after two walks and a bunt to lead off the inning. The other run was scored via a solo homer.

The only run the Cougars scored came in the ninth. Leyja blooped a single to center to score Anthony Aliotti. In the game the Cougars would strike out 11 times.

Kane County would come back to win game two of the series, 7-2. They scored all of their runs in the third and fifth innings. Gilliam pitched very well, going six innings, giving up six hits and two runs. Aliotti and Leyja both had two-run singles in the third. Gil had a three-run homer in the fifth and Crumbliss had four hits and two runs. Aliotti had two hits, a walk and a sacrifice bunt.

Krol pitched a great game in the third contest of the series, as he went six shutout innings, giving up two hits in Kane County's 4-2 win. Joseph and Max Peterson both gave up one run in relief. Crumbliss and House would both walk three times and Aliotti and Gil both had two hits.

The final game of the week was a heart-breaker for Kane County, as the Cougars would lead up until the seventh inning when they gave up four runs to lose the game, 5-4. Straily started and went four innings because of pitch count. He only gave up two hits but walked four and struck out six. He would throw 94 pitches.

Hector Garcia had to come out of the game with an oblique/back problem after one hitter. Quigley then came in and walked three, giving up one run and one hit in one inning. Lansford also had a tough outing, as he gave up two runs in an inning and one third. Peterson took the loss with two thirds of an inning of work. He would give up two hits and two runs. The Cougars gave up eight walks, only one would score but it lead to a lot of trouble. Quigley threw three wild pitches.

All of the Cougars runs would come in the fourth and fifth, as they scored two runs in each inning. The ones in the fourth came on an error by the shortstop, allowing House and Gil to score. A Crumbliss' sacrifice fly scored Myrio Richard and a wild pitch would score House. House would get two walks and Richard would have two hits. Cougar manager Nieckula after the game that there was "not a lot of flow or rhythm on both sides today. Both sides just seemed kind of flat this afternoon. Day game, quick turn around, we lose a one-run ballgame late in the seventh inning, it's a tough pill to swallow. We had those guys, we had their number until the 7th inning."

Coming Up Next

Next week the Cougars go back to Beloit, Wisconsin, to see the Snappers (Minnesota Twins) for a four-game series in three days. They will play that one game they lost in their last time up there last week. After that, the road trip continues to Clinton, Iowa, to see the Clinton Lumberkings (Seattle Mariners) for four games.

"We've just got to go out there and play good baseball against two pretty good teams," Nieckula said about the upcoming road trip.

"Beloit's obviously in first place and playing good and we are playing on the road, playing in a tough place to play for any team, but we've just got to go out there and continue to play good ball. We've got to play our game."

Quotes From The Bench

Kane County manager Aaron Nieckula on the past week:

"We played pretty good ball. The guys came in and worked hard and got themselves better. We had some excellent starting pitching, great bullpen work, good hitting and some good defense."

A's minor league roving infield instructor Juan Navarrette on Kane County's infield defense:

"We always look for improvement, every year. I'm pleased with this team this year so far and I know we can get better. My expectations from them is to keep getting better. Conner Crumbliss, who played a lot of outfield last year, he is making a good transition and it is a nice surprise watching him play a steady defense. I know Michael Gilmartin will get better and better, and with one year of experience, Leonardo Gil is one of our better strong candidates to climb up the ladder. Anthony Aliotti, I think can be a major league Gold Glover [at first base]. I know he is young, but he has great hands, and good ability to play defense."

Kane County pitching coach Jimmy Escalante on some of the Cougars' hurlers

On Connor Hoehn:

"He's had a really good season. We are at the latter half of the last few times he has gone out at tweaking with his mechanics, trying to get him on a straighter line. Overall I think he has been doing a great job."

On Kyle Christensen

"He was called up, got off the airplane and came in to pitch. No one's going to be comfortable with the weather changing from Arizona to here. It sounds like I'm making excuses for him but I'm not. It's a tough situation for him to come in here never having been out of rookie ball and come up here and face one of the hotter teams in the league. We will see what he does next game with his fastball, curveball and changeup."

On Max Peterson

"He's done a great job for us. He's come up and definitely shown that he should've been here out of spring training. He's got good command. They did a lot of good work over there in Arizona. He was falling off in the beginning of the year over there. They have been working on keeping him a little taller and have a better angle with his pitches, and his slider is definitely his go-to pitch."

What made the difference with Justin Marks' last outing

"He has been working his butt off since day one. We've been watching video. He has probably been one of the guys I've worked with the most this year so far, just trying to get him back into who he feels he is. He says he hasn't felt comfortable since the beginning of this year. Obviously this is his real first season in pro ball. He is working with a groin problem he has had before, just trying to work through it and getting better each time he comes out."

On Ian Krol

"He is probably one of our better pitchers out here. Kid's 18, but he pitches like he is a 25-year-old. Once he crosses the white line he is a warrior. He has all the tools of a great pitcher."

About the Author

David Malamut has been covering the Cougars since 1998, with his own website, (http://malamut.net). He has also written 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.

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