GENEVA – The Cougars begrudgingly observed another video board replay of an ancient inspirational speech from the warrior movie “300” on Tuesday.
It’s nothing against Gerard Butler, just the unfortunate urgency of knowing the team needs to score in the bottom of the ninth whenever the clip plays.
As more bullpen woes threatened to put the Cougars in extra innings yet again, a group bolstered by a Cougar of half-Persian descent wielded its resolve to rally for a 6-5 win against Clinton, securing the season’s first winning streak after an 0-4 start.
“The clubhouse has been steady from Day 1,” said right fielder Bijan Rademacher, who has Middle Eastern ancestry. “Those losses, those first four losses, didn’t really affect us much just because we were battling every game.”
Third baseman Jeimer Candelario smacked a game-ending, opposite field single to left in the bottom of the ninth to score Gioskar Amaya as the 2-4 Cougars clinched a series win.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach went 3 for 5 to lead six Cougars with multiple hits. Rademacher (two RBIs), Amaya, Candelario, Rock Shoulders and Marco Hernandez were the others.
“We trust in us and the teammates. We trust in us keeping going, keeping going,” Candelario said. “Hustle in, hustle out and we’re going to win a lot of games. We’re going to have a champion’s year.”
Candelario hit an outside fastball from Clinton reliever Grady Wood over left fielder Dario Pizzano’s head. One batter earlier, Vogelbach deposited a pop fly that eluded three LumberKings just inside the left field line, putting two men aboard.
In the top of the inning, Rademacher’s skill in pursuing a ball hit to shallow right field kept the Cougars afloat. With the Cougars clinging to a 5-3 lead entering the ninth, Clinton (2-4) had the tying run on third with the help of a throwing error and wild pitch from Cougars reliever Eduardo Orozco.
Capping a day of improved team defense, Rademacher darted in to grab a sinking Guillermo Pimentel liner for the second out. He was initially fearful he wouldn’t make it in time, as manager Mark Johnson had moved the team out of its “no doubles” defense moments earlier and Rademacher still was walking to his usual position.
“I feel the more relaxed I am, I know, hey, I’m going to get to that spot. As soon as I get there, I look up, the ball is still just because I know I’m going to catch the ball,” Rademacher said. “And I trusted myself that I got the correct principles.”
Clinton tied the game one batter later on another Orozco wild pitch, but Kane County hardly blinked once the top of the order came to bat against Wood.
Johnson managed 19 current Cougars at Short-A Boise last season.
That team scuffled early before advancing to the Northwest League championship series.
He sees a similar pattern developing in Geneva.
“It’s not like we were going to go 0 and 140-something,” Johnson said. “It’s just a matter of them seeing themselves win and getting that confidence and just building from it.”
For the second straight afternoon, the Cougars flew a replica of the parent Cubs’ famed white and blue “W” flag as a result.
If they had to watch a snippet of “300” to get there, so be it.
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Up next: Cougars (RHP Tayler Scott, 0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Clinton (LHP Scott DeCecco, 0-1, 1.80 ERA), 11 a.m. today, kccougars.com (online-only broadcast)
Turnstile report: Tuesday's crowd of 2,927 pushed the Cougars' season total to 15,584 fans in six openings. Kane County attracted 21,677 fans through six games last season.
Cubs celebrity watch: Radar gun in hand, Cubs coordinator of pro scouting Andrew Bassett took in the game from Section 110, behind home plate.
Sight seen: A male teenage student with a front-row seat on the first Ozzie's Reading Club Day matinee of the season routinely paid more attention to his cellphone. Bet ol' Abner never thought it would come to this.
Cubs brass will be excited because: Right-hander Pierce Johnson rebounded from a shaky Opening Day start, scattering six hits, two runs, two walks and four strikeouts in a five-inning no-decision. "I'm still having trouble finding my rhythm," Johnson said, "but my defense made huge plays behind me." Cubs brass will cringe because: A leaky bullpen had the Cougars on the edge of their fourth straight extra-inning affair.
The closer: Here come the timely hits to go with a solid starting pitching staff. Designated hitter Rock Shoulders tagged a solo home run that provided a 4-3 lead in the sixth and is batting .480.