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Cougars' strong core remains for 2nd half

Published: Monday, June 16, 2014 9:42 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 16, 2014 9:52 p.m. CDT
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(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com)
First baseman Jacob Rogers and the Cougars had the opposition cornered at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark during the first half of the season. The Cougars went 28-7 at home and will look to duplicate that success when the second half begins Thursday.

Beloit honored its nickname over the weekend and temporarily snapped the Cougars' first-half mojo.

Kane County's first three-game losing streak since a four-game skid in mid-May still left the club with a Midwest League-best 45-25 record at the All-Star break.

After the series ended with a pair of walk-off losses, though, it's imperative the Cougars don't give in to any brimming sense of foreboding. A strong core remains for more of the same success in the second half, and a group of oft-described "baseball rats" knows it. For the most part.

"We've just kind of been flowing," said third baseman Jordan Hankins, one of four Cougars All-Stars set to travel to West Michigan for today's game. "It's not really that one person that's getting the job done, it's everybody contributing. It's just a good run right now and these are the types of runs you want to try and last as long as you can or whatever, because they don't last long."

On Sunday, eight of the nine position players who started the Cougars' April 3 season opener at Quad Cities took the field in Beloit. They had clinched the first-half Western Division title eight days earlier behind a pitching staff that's second in the 16-team MWL with a 3.07 ERA and a balanced attack with a sixth-ranked batting average (.259)

While a few holdovers remain from the 2013 team that struggled to a franchise-worst 55-80 record, the Cougars are mostly a concoction of players that advanced to the short-season Northwest League championship series last September with Boise.

Per the minor league cycle, new faces have and will shuttle through the clubhouse because of promotions, injuries and the recently concluded Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Thus far, that's been a fairly seamless process thanks to a diligence that manager Mark Johnson didn't always see from the 2013 club, which also was coming off a Northwest League championship series appearance.

"Don't like to bombard them with a lot of new information," Johnson said. "Just let them go play, let them settle in a little bit, pick their spots."

The Cougars will open the second half at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Cedar Rapids, kicking off a seven-game homestand and a stretch of 17 of 27 games at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

The Cougars' 28-7 home record in the first half was four games better than their nearest competitor, Eastern Division champion West Michigan.

"Everyone's getting better," outfielder Shawon Dunston Jr. said. "Everyone's here for a reason and everyone pushes each other to do their best. We have a lot of good players here. Even guys who don't play every day are still good players, and we just push each other to the best our our ability."

Note: Cougars playoff tickets for a Midwest League Western Division semifinal will go on sale at 9 a.m. Thursday. The Cougars will host Game 2 of the series at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 4, and also would play host to a decisive third game at 6 p.m. Sept. 5.

For more information, contact the Cougars' ticket office at 630-232-8811 or log on to www.kccougars.com.

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