Kane County Notes: Cougars Split Pair

Geneva, IL - The Kane County Cougars recently split a two-game home series against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers which included manager ejections, power outages and rain delays. After losing Wednesday by a score of 4-2, the Cougars capitalized on early errors Thursday en route to tying both the two-game (1-1) and season series (3-3) with the Timber Rattlers.

Game One: Cougars Drop Wild One

Amidst quite a bit of controversy and two ejections from the Kane Country Cougars coaching staff, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, led by RHP Anthony Varvaro, earned a 4-2 victory at Elfstrom Stadium Wednesday night.

The game was scoreless in the bottom of the second when Cougars SS Michael Affronti stepped to the plate. After a two-out error by Timber Rattlers 2B Ogui Diaz lengthened the inning and put 2B Isaac Omura on first base, Affronti hit a rocket to left field.

The ball appeared to hit either the top of the wall or the wood railing just above it, which would have signified a home run.

Immediately, home plate umpire Adam Hamari sprinted out towards third base to get a better look. As the ball ricocheted, Hamari spun his finger in the air to signal a home run.

The signal caused immediate reaction from the Timber Rattlers dugout as manager Jim Horner ran out to argue the call. After speaking with Horner, Hamari went to speak to base umpire Alex Ortiz. Following a few minutes of deliberation, the home run was called a double and both runners returned to second and third base.

When 3B Christian Vitters struck out looking to end the inning, Cougars manager Aaron Nieckula appeared to make a comment to Hamari and was immediately tossed from the game. Pitching coach Don Schulze also came out to argue and was booted by Ortiz.

After the game, Nieckula spoke about his disagreement in how the hit was ruled.

"From my understanding, the home plate umpire had the responsibility of the batted ball," said Nieckula. "Horner did his job, ran out, saw the ball hit the wood, and called it a home run. The other umpire was further away from the plate so I don't understand how he could have overruled the play."

Both Affronti and Nieckula alluded to believing the ball was a home run after the game.

"When it hits the padding on the wall it makes a big noise and none of us really heard it," said Affronti. "The home plate umpire told me he had thought it went over and that the base umpire basically overruled him because he said he had a better angle."

Despite the loss, Cougars starting pitcher John Herrera made tremendous strides striking out a season-high five batters. He managed to hurl six innings while giving up eight hits and three runs. He may have even thrown the seventh if not for taking a line drive to the elbow in the sixth. It marked the second time a Cougars pitcher has been hit by a line drive from a Timber Rattler batter this year.

Varvaro, who was previously 2-4 on the year, earned the victory after hurling six innings of one-hit ball while shutting out the Cougars and fanning two.

"The rest of the league is hitting .277 off him and we come out and have only one hit," said Nieckula. "Heading into the game, you would think we could be able to hit him well, but that's just numbers on paper. That's why you play the game."

Wisconsin began the game with two consecutive hits from CF Greg Halman and LF Kuo Hui Lo to put runners on second and third with nobody out. After Herrera struck out SS Carlos Triunfel, a ground out by DH Carlos Peguero resulted in a RBI scoring Halman to give the Timber Rattlers a 1-0 lead.

After leaving the second inning with no runs, the Cougars weren't able to get another hit until the eighth inning. Meanwhile, the Timber Rattlers struck again in the top of the third.

Lo led off the third with a double and SS Carlos Triunfel hit an RBI single up the middle to give the team a 2-0 advantage.

The team continued to build it's lead in the seventh inning after a two-out RBI single by Lo scored C Juan Beltran who had singled earlier in the inning. The hit was part of a four-for-four day for Lo which included two singles, two doubles, one run and one RBI.

The Timber Rattlers added on one more run in the eighth inning after consecutive hits from RF Kalian Sams and 1B Gerardo Avila to push the lead out to 4-0 heading into the ninth.

The Cougars made a comeback in the bottom of the ninth forcing Horner to bring in a second reliever in what became a save situation.

Rollie Gibson struggled in the early part of the ninth for the Timber Rattlers loading the bases on two walks and a single. Surrendering two runs, Gibson left the game with runners on first and second. Drew Fiorenza came in and retired the first two batters he faced to earn the save, his first on the season.

It was another incidence of the Cougars coming up short when they needed hits.

"We're 0-14 in one-run games," said Nieckula. "Out of the 45 games we've played, about 38 of them have been close enough to win. "The game is all about making adjustments, and we're not doing a very good job of doing that. If we we're making good adjustments, we wouldn't be in the position we were in today."

With the loss, the Cougars fell to 11-33 on the Affronti had two hits on the day for the Cougars. Beltran added two singles for the Timber Rattlers. Jason Fernandez relieved Herrera hurling three innings while surrendering one unearned run.

Cougars Survive Weather, Power Outage To Win

After two power outages and an hour rain delay, the Kane County Cougars defeated the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 8-4 in a five-hour game Thursday at Elfstrom Stadium. Cougars starting pitcher Henry Rodriguez threw five strong innings and earned the victory after conceding only two hits and striking out a season-high five while shutting out the Timber Rattlers.

Rodriguez, who was previously 0-1 with a 4.76 ERA, used his fastball for most of the day to keep batters on their toes. Cougars' manager Aaron Nieckula was happy Rodriguez completed enough innings to earn the victory.

"That was the last hitter he was facing (in the top of the fifth with two out) whether he got him or not," said Nieckula. "Thankfully he got him and qualified for the win. It looked like he held his composure out there and made pitches when he needed to."

Timber Rattlers hurler Tony Butler shouldered the loss giving up five runs (two earned) in 3.1 innings of work while walking four and giving up seven hits.

The Cougars jumped on the Timber Rattlers early, capitalizing on one of the many errors Wisconsin made on the day. With two out in the first and no one on, Timber Rattlers 1B Gerardo Avila botched a routine ground ball that allowed Cougars 1B Greg Dowling to reach first base.

After Butler walked cleanup hitter Haas Pratt to put runners on first and second, 3B Alex Valdez knocked a double down the third base line to plate Dowling. 2B Larry Cobb kept the inning going with a single scoring Pratt and Valdez. After all was said and done, the Cougars had scored three unearned runs in the first inning to take a stranglehold on the game.

"We needed to start taking advantage of opportunities to score and today we did," said Nieckula. "It's nice to jump out to an early lead and gain some momentum."

The Cougars struck again the bottom of the third inning. After Butler issued a leadoff walk to Dowling, Pratt connected on a 2-2 pitch and drove a home run over the left field fence to make the score 5-0 in favor of Kane County.

Pratt, who recently was put in the cleanup position by Nieckula, responded by coming up with what turned out to be the game winning RBI.

"We put Pratt in the line-up today because he has done so well against left-handed pitching," said Nieckula. "Hopefully he can start becoming the RBI machine we had envisioned him being."

After five innings were completed, Cougars RHP Trevor Cahill came in to pitch the next four. After getting out of the sixth unscathed thanks to a pick off play, the power went out at Elfstrom Stadium.

After a 25-minute delay, the game was resumed, and Cahill wasn't quite the same.

He lasted through two outs in the seventh while conceding four runs off three walks, one single and one hit batter.

"Cahill may have been a little bit distracted by the rain delay," said Nieckula. "He just didn't come out with sharpness and was a little wild and out of control."

Reliever T.J. Franco came in and shut down the Timber Rattlers to end the seventh. After another power surge ensued, the rain started coming down in sheets to cause an hour rain delay. After deliberating for a while, the umpires decided to continue the game when the rain stopped.

The Cougars would cross the plate one more time in the eighth after a double by Greg Dowling plated SS Michael Affronti who had walked earlier in the inning.

Relief pitcher Branden Dewing came in the game in the ninth to close it out for the Cougars and preserve the 8-4 victory.

The Timber Ratters played one of their worst games of the year committing four errors and getting picked off three times (in two situations there was a runner on third) to end the inning.

Jermaine Mitchell, who was moved down to the seven slot for the game, responded by hitting three singles on the day.

"In my opinion, Jermaine had been struggling against left handed pitching this past week," said Nieckula. "If he hits the ball on the ground to that left side he can beat out a lot of infield hits. Speed never slumps."

Alex Valdez, Mike Massaro and Larry Cobb all had two singles for the Cougars.

Carlos Triunfel and Kuo Hui Lo each had three singles for the Timber Rattlers.

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