GENEVA – Catcher Cael Brockmeyer opened auditions for the Cougars’ latest late-game star with a game-tying single in Wednesday’s eighth inning.
Aided by a little luck, second baseman Danny Lockhart secured the role one batter later as Burlington counterpart Kody Eaves’ error on a potential double play allowed the go-ahead run to score.
Shortstop Carlos Penalver (RBI single) and center fielder Jeffrey Baez (two-run home run) took their turns next, by which time the Cougars had all but seized their 10th straight win. In beating the Bees, 7-3, the club again presented a deep ensemble cast to address the feat.
“I mean, really, our biggest thing is no one’s trying to be the hero. No one’s trying to be the one guy who takes over,” Lockhart said this week. “If you look at this team, we’re not full of prospects. We’re just a team that finds a way to win.
“Whether it’s the left fielder today or the first baseman tomorrow, or our pitching picks up our hitting or our hitting picks up our pitching, we just seem to find a way every day to kind of put out our best performance, and it seems to be working so far.”
“So far” is modest, especially considering the numerous gaudy win statistics that have mounted all season.
Wednesday’s five-run, eighth inning rally propelled the Cougars to 38-20 in the second half, 83-45 overall and 50-15 at home. With 12 regular season games remaining before the Midwest League playoffs start Sept. 3, the Cougars are five wins from tying the 2001 club’s single-season record for victories.
The parent Cubs have promoted 11 players from Class-A Kane County to Advanced-A Daytona this season.
“We’re used to it in pro ball; you just kind of make do with what you have,” Brockmeyer said. “We’ve still got a pretty good core group of guys that have been here the whole year that are kind of sticking together. When the other guys come in and the new guys come in, they’re kind of running with it and taking it in full stride. So it’s meshing well and going pretty well.”
Manager Mark Johnson, who presided over the worst season in Cougars franchise history in 2013 (55-80), now rests on a remarkable perch. The Cougars’ 83 wins lead affiliated baseball. Although six members of the starting lineup were part of the Opening Day roster, winner Jasvir Rakkar only joined the team late last month.
He struck out three in 11⁄3 innings of perfect relief and remains unscored upon in eight appearances with the Cougars.
Speaking about the winning streak and home dominance – which includes nine series sweeps – Johnson said, “It’s a good thing to have to address daily.”
His words easily could have applied to Rakkar’s sterling Midwest League start or a persistently resilient attack.
On Monday, the Cougars won, 2-1, in 10 innings as left fielder Shawon Dunston Jr. singled home the winning run with his namesake, a former Cubs All-Star infielder, in the stands.
Tuesday’s two-run eighth provided the difference in a 4-3 win against the Bees (26-32, 64-63) setting the stage for Wednesday’s rally against lefty Cole Swanson and righty Ben Carlson.
“Guys made mistakes early and we capitalized and [had] timely hitting by every guy on our team,” Dunston Jr. said. “We just keep chipping away when the bullpen shuts down, and that’s pretty much about it.”
Burlington knows the brunt of the Cougars’ surge too well, losing each of the clubs’ nine meetings this season.
The Bees host the Cougars for three games next week, and could be a potential playoff opponent after winning the Western Division’s first-half wild card.
The Cougars were division champions.
“They’ve been really good games, believe me, as far as player development is concerned,” Bees manager Bill Richardson said. “I’m excited as all heck every time we play them. It’s a class team, class manager, class GM. So I could play these guys every game. It’s terrific. A lot of respect for everything they do here, and hopefully, when they come to our place, they feel the same way.”
The Cougars appealed to their familiarity with Fifth Third Bank Ballpark as one catalyst for their home success.
Comfortable clubhouses, host family security and favorite hangouts evidently can be as advantageous as the final at-bat.
“Baseball’s a big game of routines,” Brockmeyer said, “so once you get in a good routine, you can find a good one at home.”
In this case, it’s arrive at the ballpark, complete early work, eat, stretch and win.
Then wait your turn to grin and talk about it.
COUGARS SHORT HOPS
Cougars (RHP Jonathan Martinez, 9-5, 3.47 ERA) vs. Clinton (LHP Blake Holovach, 6-4, 3.87 ERA), 6:30 p.m. today, AM-1280
What nautical nonsense?
Wednesday marked the rare weekday matinee in which the “SpongeBob SquarePants” theme song or other kiddie-centric fare hardly blared from the public address system.
The 1 p.m. start attracted no first-week-of-school field trips and was not attached to any Ozzie’s Reading Club activities.
To be sure, most among the crowd of 2,598 were adults who could appreciate the Bees’ enthusiasm for day baseball with a six-game homestand coming up.
“Get home early tonight. Get some sleep. Be ready to go tomorrow,” Burlington center fielder Bo Way said.
Bees right-hander Brian Loconsole, a Glenbard North product and former Geneva resident, was in line for the victory before the Cougars’ eighth inning rally.
Loconsole, 24, limited the Cougars to one hit in 1 2/3 innings of relief, mixing a 90 to 94 mph fastball with his breaking pitches as he’s done all season.
Bees manager Bill Richardson said Loconsole was on track for a late-season promotion to Advanced-A Inland Empire in the parent Los Angeles Angels system, but will remain with playoff-bound Burlington to gain postseason experience.
“I’m dying to see how his pitches play at the higher level,” Richardson said.
The Angels drafted Loconsole in the 20th round in 2013. He’s 5-4 with a 1.71 ERA in 30 games over 63 innings this season, striking out 46 and walking 14.
Ice, ice bucket
Cougars mascot Ozzie T. Cougar accepted the ongoing nationwide ice bucket challenge for ALS support and awareness after the game.
Following the familiar protocol, he challenged counterparts Mr. Shucks (Cedar Rapids), Louie the LumberKing (Clinton) and Fang (Wisconsin) to do the same.
– Kevin Druley, firstname.lastname@example.org