The Cougars' past two wins have been nearly identical as strong pitching and timely hitting helped propel the team to victory.
Starting pitcher Andrew Bailey just missed out on the decision hurling 4.2 innings of scoreless ball while striking out six. T.J. Franco earned the win in relief, his second of the season.
Because Bailey’s pitch count exceeded 75 before the fifth inning, Cougars head coach Aaron Nieckula was forced to relieve him just one out before becoming eligible to earn the victory.
“We wanted to leave him (Bailey) in there to get the victory but he ran out of bullets,” said Nieckula. “He pitched a tremendous game and showed a lot of control out there.”
While the Timber Rattlers didn’t have many scoring chances, the Cougars had many, yet struggled to capitalize early.
In the first inning, the Cougars loaded the bases with one out sandwiching a walk around two singles. RF Jermaine Mitchell was unable to capitalize on the sacrifice opportunity, striking out to record the second out. 2B Isaac Omura came up next but grounded out to the third baseman to neutralize the threat.
Leaving runners on base is nothing new for the Cougars, as they have averaged eight per game this season.
“It’s definitely something that has been a problem for us this season,” said Nieckula. “We need to improve on that if we want to continue to win ball games.”
The first runs of the game came in the bottom of the fifth inning. With one out, Cougars CF Mike Massaro hit an infield single and stole second base. SS Michael Affronti flew out to shallow center field to record the second out of the inning. With an open base, opposing pitcher Ricky Orta didn’t give Greg Dowling too much to hit, walking him to put runners on first and second.
After a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third, clean up hitter Haas Pratt did his job rocketing a single up the middle to score Massaro and Dowling and give the team a 2-0 lead.
Nieckula has put a few different players at the clean up spot this season and was happy to see Pratt come through.
“Pratt has earned the right to bat at that position,” said Nieckula. “You don’t necessarily have to be a big home run hitter to bat the four spot. You just have to drive in runs and it doesn’t matter how you do it.”
The Timber Rattlers lone run came in the top of the sixth inning when 1B Leury Bonilla led off the inning with a double. With one out, relief pitcher T.J. Franco struck out Wisconsin LF Kalian Sims. Bonilla, who was stealing third on the pitch, ended up scoring after Cougars catcher Jake Smith overthrew third base and launched the ball into left field.
Franco fought off the run and retired 3B Alex Liddi to end the inning.
The Cougars tacked on one more insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning after two consecutive doubles by Mitchell and Omura.
Closer Scott Moore entered the game in the top of the ninth and recorded his second straight save and third of the season retiring three straight batters.
Massaro, who moved into the top ten in the league in batting average before the contest, remained hot going 2-4 on the day with two singles. He has now hit safely in 16 of his past 18 games and moves his current hitting streak to eight games.
Pratt also went 2-4 with two singles and two RBI’s on the day. Mitchell was the final Cougar with two hits going 2-4 on the day with a single, double and run scored.
Bonilla and Juan Beltran recorded four of the Timber Rattlers six hits.
The team has a much-deserved day off today before hosting four straight home games starting Thursday and concluding Sunday.
The Cougars host the Great Lakes Loons (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate) Thursday at 6 p.m. The Cougars are expected to put James Heuser back on the roster to pitch for the game. Nathan Adcock is expected to take the mound for the Loons.