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KC Cougars

Cougars conquered for rare home sweep

GENEVA – West Michigan first baseman Dominic Ficociello channeled one of the giants of history after he and the Whitecaps disrupted the 2014 Cougars' own narrative Monday afternoon.

"Veni, vidi, vici," Ficociello said as his teammates vacated the visiting clubhouse at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

Apparently, Julius Caesar's famed declaration – translated as "I came, I saw, I conquered" – applied as West Michigan became the first road club to sweep the Cougars since July 2013. Quite the subtext for a 2-1 victory on Day Camp Day.

"I've always liked that saying. I guess it could kind of be our motto for the trip," Ficociello said. "It was nice. It was a good trip for us."

The Midwest League's first-half Eastern Division champions, West Michigan won five of six against Clinton and Kane County over the past week. Winners of the first-half Western Division title, the Cougars (22-14 second half, 67-39 overall) still lead the Whitecaps (24-12, 65-41) in the race for the league's best record.

Dressing in a rarely silent clubhouse – there were no beats by Dr. Dre or any other artist coming from the radio – the Cougars turned their attention toward recovering during a three-game trip to Wisconsin that begins today.

"We were there and every game was close," Cougars first baseman Ben Carhart said. "We still feel good about what we're doing."

West Michigan took Saturday's series opener, 7-5, before a 2-1 victory Sunday. Its pitching stood up again Monday, with left-hander Kevin Ziomek, a second round pick of the parent Detroit Tigers in 2013, striking out a career-high 13 in six innings.

A Vanderbilt product, Ziomek lowered his MWL-best ERA to 2.17 while remaining second behind teammate Buck Farmer for the league lead in strikeouts.

"He was sneaky, sneaky fast and just hard to pick up just because he got on you fast," Cougars second baseman Giuseppe Papaccio said. "His fastball was pretty good. Just a tough game for all of us."

Ziomek, who boasts 24 strikeouts in his past 13 innings, fanned every Cougar at least once.

"He's an advanced pitcher, probably the best guy we've faced all year, especially from the [Eastern Division]," left fielder Shawon Dunston Jr. said. "We knew somewhat of him coming into the game. He had success in college. We knew he would be a tough guy to face."

Dunston had two of the Cougars' seven hits, doubling against Ziomek to lead off the game before adding a run-scoring double against reliever Montreal Robertson in the seventh. Dunston batted .522 (12 for 23) in the six-game homestand with five multi-hit games.

His transfer to the leadoff role since the parent Cubs promoted Jake Hannemann to Advanced-A Daytona last week has been seamless. Manager Mark Johnson hopes Dunston can keep up the consistency, mirroring right-hander Daury Torrez, who remained stuck on nine victories despite spacing one run, five hits, four strikeouts and a walk in six innings.

Fellow righty Paul Blackburn has eight wins.

"It's tough to win 10 games in the minor leagues," Johnson said, "especially with regulations and things like pitch counts."

West Michigan scored the winning run against lefty Michael Heesch with consecutive two-out, ninth-inning doubles from Austin Schotts and Wynton Bernard.

While not as concise as Caesar, Ficociello nonetheless offered a summation of the war, er, series.

"We made fewer mistakes and took advantage of their few mistakes," he said. "And that just turned around and ended up being wins for us."

Up next

Cougars (RHP Duane Underwood, 5-2, 2.44 ERA) at Wisconsin (RHP Victor Diaz, 3-4, 4.14 ERA), 7:05 p.m. today, AM-1280

Rotation shuffle

With right-handers Paul Blackburn, Tyler Skulina and Daury Torrez each facing extended rest as they flirt with their 2014 innings limits, Cougars manager Mark Johnson said the starting rotation was "going to completely change" for an upcoming stretch. After Monday's game, the parent Cubs sent righties David Garner and Jasvir Rakkar from Short-A Boise to Kane County. Johnson said he was unsure of the corresponding roster moves, but one could involve putting reliever Corbin Hoffner on the disabled list. The Cubs selected Garner in the seventh round in 2013. Rakkar, of Indian descent, was a 26th-round pick in 2012.

Sing a new song

At long last, second baseman Giuseppe Papaccio heard Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" as his walk-up music Monday. The 1970s hit that begins with the words "Very superstitious" captures Papaccio indeed. "Yeah," he grinned. "A little bit." In his first home at-bats since joining the Cougars from Short-A Boise during last week's road trip, Papaccio heard an unselected Latino instrumental when he came to the plate. Apparently, the song still was assigned to the sound system button for the Cougar with jersey No. 2, which was outfielder Albert Almora for much of 2013. An 18th round selection of the parent Cubs last season, Papaccio batted .279 in 37 games with the Cougars in 2013. He initially took jersey No. 1 when he came to the club last week, but since has switched to No. 2, a longtime favorite.

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