GENEVA – Entering the ninth inning Tuesday night against the Quad Cities River Bandits, the Kane County Cougars were lifeless.
Coming off of a 15-inning marathon of a victory against Cedar Rapids on Sunday, Kane County trailed, 3-0, going into the ninth and needed lots of late help to pull off a wild, 4-3 comeback victory at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Quad Cities' defense was especially generous in a zany ninth inning that saw two errors, two more misplayed balls and a wild pitch, leading to an improbable walk-off victory for the Cougars (30-20 second half, 75-45).
The shenanigans started when Quad Cities brought in closer Frederick Tiburcio to pitch the ninth. Cougars catcher Victor Caratini pulled a routine grounder to the first baseman. When Tiburcio covered the base, he dropped the flip from first baseman Chase McDonald, leaving Caratini safe on the play.
The Cougars immediately capitalized when Jacob Rogers destroyed a 3-1 fastball off of the Country Financial advertisement above the right field deck for a two-run home run to cut their deficit to 3-2.
“We knew being down one, with no outs, we’ve done that a million times this year,” shortstop Daniel Lockhart said.
While the comeback was routine, the path to it was unlike any other game this season.
The circus show continued when designated hitter Cael Brockmeyer skied a pop-up to second base, only to have it fall to the turf when River Bandits second baseman Marc Wik lost the ball in the lights. Brockmeyer took a hard turn toward second base and fell down, but Wik fired the ball to second base and Brockmeyer was able to return safely to first.
Jeimer Candelario followed by finding the gap in right-center, only because the right and center fielders were indecisive and again saw a would-be out drop to the ground.
After a sacrifice bunt moved runners to second and third, the tying run came across the plate via a wild pitch from Tiburcio. Quad Cities intentionally walked the bases loaded to bring up Shawon Dunston, Jr., who struck out on a high fastball, bringing Lockhart to the dish with the chance to win the game.
On the 1-1 pitch, Lockhart hit a fly ball to left-center field, only to again have Quad Cities players look at each other and watch ball fall to the ground for the improbable walk-off single. Lockhart was credited with a hit on the play since no fielder touched the ball before it dropped. He was 1 for 5 with three strikeouts and reached on an error in the first inning.
“That was insane,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “I haven’t seen anything like it. That’s unexplainable, especially on a pitch black night with no twilight.”
“Just put it in play,” Lockhart said of his mentality in the ninth. “I had already struck out three times today, so I was just looking to put something in play and see what happens.”
Cougars starting pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng was razor-sharp on the mound from the opening pitch and didn’t allow a hit until the top of the fifth.
Tseng lost control in the sixth inning and Quad Cities struck. Thomas Lindauer led off the inning with a single to left field after Tseng fell behind 3-0 in the count. The River Bandits shortstop advanced to second on a fielder’s choice and moved up to third on a wild pitch by Tseng. Wik broke the scoreless tie on a sacrifice fly to left field.
Even with two outs in the inning, the Cougars couldn’t escape because their pitchers couldn’t find the strike zone. Tseng surrendered a double into the right field corner to James Ramsay and proceeded to walk the next two hitters to load the bases.
The Cougars tapped Michael Wagner out of the bullpen to relieve Tseng, but he walked the first hitter he faced, driving in the second run of the inning.
“He just kind of ran out of gas,” Johnson said of the 19-year-old Tseng. “It’s his first full season and he’s young. He’s not as physically mature as some other guys, so that’s part of it.”
River Bandits starting pitcher Kevin Comer pitched four shutout innings, scattering four hits on the night. His relief, Adrian Houser, was equally effective in shutting down the Cougars’ bats as he pitched four more shutout innings.
The Cougars were finally able to break through in the ninth inning thanks to the abundance of mistakes from the River Bandits.
“Any way to get a win is good for us,” Lockhart said.