Kane County Notes: Cougars Looking Ahead

Mitchell has been a key player for the Cougars.

The only good thing about the first half of the season for the Kane County Cougars is that it is over. With one of the team's worst records in recent memory in the first half (24-45), the Cougars were out of the race early in the first half. We take a look at the Cougars' outlook for the second half inside.

Kane County dropped its first game of the second half on Thursday, losing a game called after five innings by rain by a score of 3-0. Despite that set-back the Cougars are looking for better things in the second half.

Three players who have been on the team from the beginning this year are 2007 Midwest League all-stars Mike Massaro, Jermaine Mitchell and Mike Affronti. Kane County will be counting on these three during the second half.

Although all three players failed to get a hit in the all-star game – they went a combined 0-5 with Mitchell walking in the ninth inning – all seem to be excited about the upcoming second half, where the records are whipped clean and each team starts at 0-0.

"We're playing our best ball right now," CF Mike Massaro said. "We won nine of our last 12 so if we keep playing well we will be fine."

In winning nine out of their last 12, the team had the best record in the Midwest League over that time-span. While the Cougars did take advantage of a four-game sweep of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers -- who currently have the worst record in the league – they also defeated the Clinton LumberKings – the first half wild card winner in the West– three times, and the Burlington Bees twice during the streak.

If the team hopes to play better in the second half, they are going to have to make multiple adjustments, something manager Aaron Nieckula said they didn't do so well in the first half.

"We simply weren't making the adjustments that needed to be made," Nieckula said about the first half. "If we made the adjustments necessary then we wouldn't be in the position we were in."

Near the tail-end of the season, things seemed to be going the Cougars' way, when they weren't necessarily goign their way earlier.

"Lately we have been getting breaks that we weren't getting earlier in the season," Mitchell said. "If we continue playing on this roll we can make the playoffs."

What is encouraging for the Cougars recently has been their pitching staff. Although they recently lost their best relief man, Brandon Dewing -- who was promoted to high-A Stockton – they still bring back a rotation that began to find their groove late in the first half.

"Our starting pitchers have been phenomenal lately," Nieckula said. "I always say pitching should never slump. Good pitching and good tendencies are something we can do every day."

Led by James Heuser, who boasts a 5-2 record and an ERA under 3, the Cougars have a newfound spirit.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence and hopefully we'll do a lot better in the second half," Affronti said. "There's really no reason if we play well we can't make the playoffs."

In the Midwest League, four teams make the playoffs from each division. Already, in the first half, Beloit took the division win while the Clinton LumberKings won the wild card selection in the East. Because four teams need to go, if both of those two teams finished 1-2 again, then the third place and fourth place teams in the second half would win the final two spots.

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