Kane County Notebook: Cougars Starting Strong

After starting off the season in a deep freeze last year, the Kane County Cougars are off to a very fast start. Through their first 13 games, the Cougars are a red-hot 12-1. David Malamut has followed the Cougars franchise for years. He will be bringing us his insights into the 2008 Cougars throughout the season. His first notebook is inside...

Overview
The 2008 Cougars have been fun to watch, at this moment they are 12-1, and are three games up in the standings. Their only loss came earlier in the week to South Bend, who had just gotten their first win of the year the day before. The Cougars have proven themselves to be resilient and exciting this year, throwing a no-hitter, putting together come-from-behind victories, and winning a number of tight games. The Cougars have scored the second-most runs and have the lowest ERA in the league through Wednesday.

Standout Performers
The most obvious highlight thus far this season is the Craig Italiano and Branden Dewing no-hitter against the Burlington Bees. That was only the sixth no-hitter in Cougar history.

The starting pitching so far this season has been good. They have been able to get into the middle innings. Italiano has gone into the fifth inning in each of his last two outings, and in those starts he gave up a total of five hits and one unearned run. He also walked only two batters. On the season, he has walked only four hitters, along with getting 24 strikeouts in 14 innings.

Travis Banwart also has started out the season strong. In his three outings so far, he is 2-0, going 16 innings, giving up six earned runs and three walks.

Scott Hodsdon has thrown the ball ok for the Cougars so far this year. In his first outing, he went into the fourth inning without giving up any runs. In his second outing, he was able to get into the sixth inning with only three runs coming across.

The offense has been strong so far this season for Kane County. Jonathan Johnston has batted leadoff most of the season and has been the catcher. He gets on-base (seven walks in 10 games) and has good speed. He hasn't been able to get the hits as of yet, but he finds ways to get on-base.

Matt Ray has been a good second hitter so far, moving runners along and getting on-base. Corey Brown has good power (four homeruns and a .556 slugging percentage), but he seems to strike-out a bit (19 strike-outs in 13 games). Greg Dowling, who is repeating Kane County, has been a great fourth hitter. He is hitting .420 and has been able to drive in the runs (10 in 13 games).

Mike Lissman has been getting on-base, and driving in the runs on a regular basis. The surprise for me has been Christian Vitters, who is also repeating at Kane County. He hit some last year but wasn't getting the big hits and driving in the big runs. Granted, he missed some games last year due to illness. This year he seems to be able to get those runs home (six RBIs in 13 games).

Toddric Johnson is another surprise. Looking at his stats the last few years, they have been ok, but he wasn't always playing everyday and sometimes didn't get in there but once or twice a week. This year, he has been the regular right-fielder. Johnson is getting on-base, and hitting for more power this year. Through Wednesday, Johnson is batting .280 with three homers and 13 RBIs in 13 games.

About the writer
David Malamut has been a season ticket holder of the Cougars for the past 11 years. He has also been writing a daily website about the team for that long at http://malamut.net. David wrote a book about the history of the Cougars in 2005. Baseball In Kane County, Arcadia Publishing.

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