The Kane County Cougars are Midwest League Champions—has a nice ring to it.
Kane County put an exclamation point on their historic season Saturday night with a 7-2 win at Lake County to sweep their way to the MWL title. The Cougars were 7-0 in the post-season and finish with a 98-49 record.
Lake County snapped their 16-inning scoring draught in the first when Ivan Castillo singled and scored on Clint Frazier’s RBI double. Frazier was thrown out on the play at third as RF Yasiel Balaguert and 2B Daniel Lockhart perfected the 9-4-5 putout to end any rally.
Kane County answered right back as 1B Jacob Rogers walked, took third on a line drive base hit by Lockhart off pitcher Anderson Polanco, and scored on SS Carlos Penalver’s two-out double, his 5th RBI of the playoffs.
One of the team’s leaders during the season, Rogers launched his second homer of the post-season in the third, a two-run blast over the right-field wall, scoring 3B Jeimer Candelario, who singled. It gave the Cougars the lead for good and took the wind out of the Captains’ sails.
Kane County went up 4-1 in the fifth when Candelario singled and eventually scored on a RBI single by Rogers.
Starting pitcher Daury Torrez only allowed the first inning run and got a pair of 5-4-3 double plays to end threats in the third and fourth as Lake County had runners on first and second with no outs. Torrez got the win and the 20-year-old finished with a line of 5 IP, 5H, 1ER, 0BB 3K.
Errors plagued the Captains in every game of the series and the Cougars scored three more times in the 6th thanks to a pair of Lake County miscues. Penalver (.308) laced a one-out single and went to third when LF Shawon Dunston’s bunt was mishandled. DH Mark Zagunis, who hit .429 during the playoffs, followed with a RBI single plating Penalver. The Captains had Dunston picked off but reached third when the third baseman dropped the ball. Candelario (.429) knocked in Dunston with a sacrifice fly. Balaguert, who missed six weeks with a stress fracture, then ripped a RBI single, scoring Zagunis for the Cougars final run of 2014.
Kane County pounded Lake County pitching for 15 hits and were 6-for-12 with RISP. They hit .277 during the playoffs. Rogers and Candelario both had three hits while Zagunis, Balaguert and Penalver had two each.
After starting the year on the DL, Michael Heesch, an Illinois native who grew up going to Kane County games, worked three innings for his second hold. He allowed a run in the 7th on two hits and fanned six. Francisco Carrillo, who joined the team late in the season from Boise and stepped into the closer’s role, got a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to first to start the celebration.
“One of the first things I said to all the guys that were in Boise last year, we got it done this year,” said Rogers, who recorded the unassisted putout to start the celebration. “It was big to come out here and sweep these guys, it was a tough ball game but we got it done.”
Rogers led the team in games, homers and RBI but like the leader he is, gave the credit to his teammates. “Not just a great feeling for me but the other guys played well too. Guys got on in front of me, and when Bala (Yasiel Balaguert) got hurt I had to step up. It was a good feeling for myself but we gelled as a team.”
During the post-game interview with Kane County announcer Joe Brand, Rogers said the coaching staff deserves the credit for keeping the team together after dealing with over 90 roster moves during the season. “I give all the credit to our coaching staff. They did a great job, every day, every game, same routine, they kept us on a line and knew what we wanted to do at the end.”
The MWL title capped off a year that saw the Cougars run away with both halves of the MWL Western Division were an incredible 54-17 at home during the regular season and 4-0 during playoffs.
“Since April, Cougars fans have been treated to a season that was full of numerous on-field accomplishments that we’ll never forget,” Cougars Vice President and General Manager Curtis Haug said. “The support shown by our fans throughout the season has been tremendous. Since our first season in 1991, the fans have always been there for us. We truly appreciate that along with the hard work of our entire front office and seasonal staff as they certainly deserve to celebrate and share in this historic season as well.”
“On behalf of the Kane County Cougars organization, we’d like to congratulate the entire team, field staff and Cubs organization for capping off an unforgettable season by winning the Midwest League Championship,” Cougars owner Dr. Bob Froehlich said. “Tonight’s championship win was the culmination of a season that was filled with terrific on-field play, coaching and perhaps most importantly, a truly unified team.”
“We’re excited to bring a Midwest League championship home and we look forward to our 25th anniversary season in 2015!” Cougars owner Cheryl Froehlich said. “We’d like to thank the fans for their constant support and enthusiasm for the entire season.”
In 2014, a total of 421,971 fans attended Cougars games at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark. The Cougars’ regular season attendance total of 415,571 fans was the 23rd highest in Minor League Baseball and placed the Cougars, a Class-A team, above nearly every other Class-A or Double-A club and among several of the top Triple-A teams.
Individual accolades came in bunches for the team throughout the season. At least one Cougars player received a Cubs monthly organizational award as Minor League Pitcher or Player of the Month for four straight months - Will Remillard in April, Paul Blackburn in May, Juan Paniagua in June and Jen-Ho Tseng in July. In May, a pair of Cougars pitchers, Tyler Skulina and Nathan Dorris combined for the 8th no-hitter in franchise history. A quartet of Cougars (Remillard, Blackburn, Jose Arias and Jordan Hankins) were selected to participate in the Midwest League All-Star Game in June. Five players (Jacob Rogers, Daury Torrez, Jeimer Candelario, Duane Underwood, Kyle Schwarber) were named Midwest League Player or Pitcher of the Week this season. Manger Mark Johnson was named Midwest League Manager of the Year.