GENEVA – Cougars players tread carefully when it comes to the “almost” factor.
To grow too reliant on something that borders on an excuse isn’t what they’re after.
The thing is, they can’t help holding onto it during a second half that’s left them tasting the brink when their record suggests otherwise.
“I think from a player’s standpoint, we feel like we’re just on the cusp of getting big-time hits, making big-time plays,” shortstop Giuseppe Papaccio said before Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Great Lakes. “We’ve been getting out and doing all our early work and we look great in practice and great in all the other stuff. I think it’s just going to take one thing to click, just to get us on the right path.”
It was clear where the Cougars needed to deliver Thursday.
With the bases loaded and one out and the Cougars trailing by the final margin in the sixth, catcher Willson Contreras and designated hitter Marco Hernandez struck out in successive at-bats.
The Cougars (35-56 overall, 5-20 second half) scored their runs earlier in the inning. Second baseman Gioskar Amaya knocked a run-scoring triple two batters ahead of Dan Vogelbach’s bloop RBI single.
Great Lakes (43-54, 17-10) broke open a scoreless tie with two runs in the fifth and another in the sixth. The loss left the Cougars 1-6 against Eastern Division competition in the second half with four games remaining.
A brief midafternoon storm shifted batting practice away from the Fifth Third Bank Ballpark diamond and out to the cages beyond center field.
The weather made for slightly lower temperatures throughout the game, but conditions still were sticky and warmer than what fans have encountered through the season to date.
Great Lakes, which plays home games in Midland, Mich., is entering the warmest stretch of weather it has seen this season, too. Compared to the alternative, though, the Loons will take it.
“The ones that are here, they’re so glad to get the heat from being in Midland because it is freezing when the season opens,” manager Razor Shines said. “So the heat is a welcome relief. Obviously it’s hot, but if they had a choice, they’d prefer the heat.”
Not the Cougars, at least in the figurative sense. Entering Thursday 6½ games out of a second-half playoff spot – and nine games out of the second-half Western Division lead – was neither a desirable nor planned position.
“I think it’s just going to take one thing to click, just to get us on the right path,” Papaccio said. “I mean, we’re not waiting around for it. We’re trying to push for it, but I mean, I think it could happen any of these next days. I think we could get right on something.”
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Cougars (RHP Scott Baker, 0-1, 12.00 ERA) vs. Great Lakes (6-2, 2.90 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
Thursday’s crowd of 6,349 pushed the Cougars’ season total to 237,602 fans in 37 home games. Kane County attracted 212,678 fans through the same span last season.
On Saturday, the Cougars expect to become the first Class-A club to attract 10 million fans. The Cougars relocated from Wausau, Wis., to Geneva before the 1991 season.
“They’ve been a success there for many, many, many years, from the day they’ve got there,” Midwest League president George Spelius told the Chronicle this week. “And they’ve done well for themselves.
“Going through the economy when it busted up there not to many years ago, it would take quite a few clubs to get back to the numbers they were getting.”
Nary a peanut. There were no legumes allowed as part of Thursday’s Peanut Free Night, which catered to those allergic to the popular ballpark food.
Cubs brass will be excited because
First baseman Dan Vogelbach registered two of the Cougars’ five hits, including an RBI single in the sixth.
Cubs brass will cringe because
Swinging early in counts was the norm, not the exception after the Cougars fell behind. A scoreless tie after four innings, the game hinged on a pair of Loons runs in the top of the fifth.