GENEVA – The Quad Cities River Bandits were a big reason the Cougars got out to an underwhelming 4-8 start, dealing Kane County five of those eight losses. But after another bout of nasty April weather forced the postponement of Friday’s scheduled contest between the two Midwest League rivals, the Cougars struck back in a big way.
The Cougars swept a doubleheader with the River Bandits on Saturday, taking Game 1, 7-3, and winning Game 2, 4-3. The pair of wins gave the Cougars a series victory after Quad Cities’ win on Thursday.
“It was a big step for us right there coming back and winning two and getting the series and getting a little momentum finally,” manager Mark Johnson said. “The kids were excited, and it showed. They played with some enthusiasm and caught the ball and threw strikes. Hopefully we’ll keep swinging the bats well.”
The Cougars got everything they needed Saturday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, including quality starting pitching, timely hitting and a whole bunch of runs.
Rock Shoulders was the day’s offensive star, going 5-for-6 with two doubles, two home runs, a walk, four RBIs and three runs scored. His performance powered a Cougars offense that piled up 11 runs on 19 hits over the course of two seven-inning games.
“Wow,” Johnson said of Shoulders’ impressive day at the plate. “He’s just been killing the ball. He’s been that solidifier in the middle of the lineup that kind of protects the other guys that have been struggling a little bit. Now some of the guys are swinging with him, and they’re putting it together. It’s showing. When they all start clicking, it’s going to be pretty [darn] fun.”
Click they did in Game 1. Kane County roughed up Quad Cities starting pitcher Brian Holmes for five runs in the first three innings. A four-run third sent Holmes packing before the second out was recorded.
Cougars starter Pierce Johnson turned in his best outing of the young season after going 11 days since his last start thanks to various weather-related cancelations. The right-hander went five innings Saturday, allowing one unearned run on three hits and striking out six en route to his first win of the year.
“I just didn’t have rhythm in the first couple games. I’ve been working on that in the last couple weeks, and I think it really helped today," he said. I think I had a little more juice because I had a little bit more rest, but I felt a lot better."
Game 2 was a tighter contest, as the teams went back-and-forth, though the Cougars picked up some clutch hitting when Marco Hernandez delivered an RBI single to break a 3-all tie in the bottom of the sixth. It was the type of clutch hit manager Johnson said the team has been lacking in the season’s early going.
“We were getting on base, we just weren’t driving anybody in. You go through spells like that. It’s just how can you minimize them and how can you keep them to a day or two instead of letting them span out. That’s what the good teams do, and that’s what the good hitters do,” he said.
Tayler Scott started the second game of the day for Kane County and also earned his first win of the year with a six-inning outing that featured three runs and four strikeouts.
Pitching, defense, offense – the Cougars got it all Saturday, and it was important for the bats to stay hot on another cold day in the season’s first month.
“To do this in the cold weather says something about our offense. This is going to be a pretty solid offense, I think, up and down the lineup,” Mark Johnson said. “If the pitching comes around, which it’s starting to, and the bullpen starts doing the job like they can, it’s going to be pretty fun to watch.”