Quad Cities (1-2) closes the book on a stellar season with a first round exit from the playoffs, as their record-setting offense found a way to force the rubber match before dropping the series in three games. Kane County (2-1) proved too strong, lighting up the Swing bullpen in the series finale to extend their season.
In all three games of the set, the team that won the race to the scoreboard went on to win the game.
Chad Boyd sparked the Cougars offense to a quick lead in the top of the first inning, as the leadoff hitter reached base after a wild pitch on a swinging strikeout. A flare single to left by Frank Martinez put men on first and second, and when Jeff Baisley's grounder snuck past a diving shortstop, Boyd came around to put Kane County on the board. After a passed ball moved Martinez to third, the runner scored on a fielder's choice groundout by Raul Padron to stake the Cougars out to a 2-0 lead.
Kane County was back on the prowl in the second, using a double and two walks to load the bases with nobody out. But Adam Ottavino responded by pitching his way out of the jam. He struck out Martinez and Baisley swinging for the first two outs, and when Anthony Recker lined out to right it appeared the momentum had shifted back into the Swing's corner.
Quad Cities took advantage of that turn of events by getting on the board in the top of the third. Mark Hamilton led off by swatting a double off the wall in center, and after a bunt-single by Daniel Nelson the Swing had men on the corners. Chad Gabriel then punched an RBI knock through the right side on a well-executed hit-and-run play. Though Nelson was gunned down at the plate on a fielder's choice later in the inning, the Swing cut the lead in half to pull within 2-1.
Kane County had extended the lead to 4-1 when they blew things open in the fifth. After Scott Vander Weg loaded the bases with two outs, Swing manager Keith Mitchell relieved him with flame-thrower Matt Trent. The Virginia native could not work out of the trouble, however, as Matt Sulentic followed a series of foul balls by slapping a 2-2 pitch into right-center for a two-run single. One batter later, league MVP Baisley smoked a laser to left field that cleared the fence for a three-run bomb, giving the Cougars a healthy 9-1 advantage.
Quad Cities began their comeback immediately, as they managed to outscore Kane County 6-1 the rest of the way.
Casey Rowlett opened the top of the sixth with a solo home run to left. With one away Tyler Greene and Bryan Anderson each singled to keep the rally alive, and Jose Martinez followed with a liner into right-center that plated Greene. Anderson was at third later in the frame when he raced home to score on a wild pitch, making it a 9-4 score.
Greene ripped a run-scoring double to the left field corner in the seventh and Anderson added a two-run knock in the ninth, but the eight-run hole was too big for the Swing to climb out of. Their 2006 season came to an end on a pop out by Martinez that was corralled by Raul Padron in foul ground off of first base.
Adam Ottavino (0-1) took the loss for the Swing, as the Cardinals' top pick in the June draft consistently found himself working from behind in the count. He allowed four runs – two earned – on six hits over just three innings of work, striking out three while walking three.
The bullpen did not fare much better, as a trio of Quad Cities relievers that had put together strong regular season campaigns struggled Friday night. Vander Weg was touched for three runs in 1.2 innings, Trent allowed two runs in 1.1 innings, and Jonathan Mikrut walked three (one intentional) while allowing a run in his lone inning of work. Closer Chris Perez, the fifth Swing right-hander to see action in the ballgame, tossed a scoreless eighth inning.
Joe Piekarz (1-0) picked up the win for Kane County, as the southpaw had allowed just one run through five innings before hitting some turbulence in the sixth. In the end he was roughed up for four runs on nine hits over six frames, but by the time the Swing attack caught up to him the Cougars were well on their way to the 10-7 win.
Though the Swing season ended abruptly on Friday night, it was a banner year for the team. Quad Cities went 76-61 during the regular season – their best record since 2001 – while winning their first divisional championship since 1998 and their first playoff game since 1999. Quad Cities established new franchise records for batting average (.272), hits (1,274), and doubles (253) in a single-season while leading the Midwest League in hitting.
But their first championship since 1990 will have to wait for another year, as Swing of the Quad Cities baseball will take a break until opening day in 2007.