Cougars claim first-half crown
GENEVAâ€”The Kane County Cougars, officially at the halfway point of the 2009 regular season, will be heading to the Midwest League playoffs this September as the Western Divisionâ€™s first half champion. Sundayâ€™s 6-0 blanking of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers at Elfstrom Stadium punctuated the Cougarsâ€™ strong first half play as the team went 41-29 through the seasonâ€™s first 70 games.
Kane County is postseason-bound for the 11th time in 19 years and the fifth time in seven seasons as an Aâ€™s affiliate. The Cougarsâ€™ first round opponent will be the Western Division second half wild card champion, and that news will likely not be solidified until late August or early September as the seasonâ€™s second half winds down.
Team statistics reflect how strong of a first half the Cougars, led by manager Steve Scarsone, put together. Kane County slugged the most home runs in the league (57) while allowing the second-fewest long balls (34). Cougars pitchers also yielded 526 hits, the fewest in the league. Three Cougars are on pace for 10 or more wins in 2009, including Pedro Figueroa (7-2, 3.69), Chicago native Kenny Smalley (6-3, 2.26) and Shawn Haviland (5-3, 3.66), who pitched six strong innings in yesterdayâ€™s division-clinching victory on Fatherâ€™s Day. Pitchers such as Figueroa, Smalley and Haviland have been routinely setting the table for closer Mickey Storey, who has nine saves and a 0.52 ERA while allowing only one earned run to cross home plate this season.
Offensively, the Cougars boast an impressive core of five players with 30+ RBIs, three players with 16 or more stolen bases, and a well-balanced lineup that includes four position players that started in the Midwest League All-Star Game in Clinton, Iowa. Outfielder Grant Desme, despite not being selected to the Western Division All-Star squad, leads the Cougars in home runs with 11 and in stolen bases with 24. Other notable offensive stars for the Cougars include first baseman Steve Kleen (team-high 46 RBI), third baseman Jason Christian (2nd best in RBI with 41), and shortstop Dusty Coleman (30 extra-base hits).
The Cougars commence the seasonâ€™s second half June 25, opening a four-game set against the Quad Cities River Bandits in Davenport, Iowa. Fans can see the Cougars at home again beginning on June 30 when the club hosts the Peoria Chiefs, a Cubs affiliate for a four-game homestand that includes two patriotic fireworks shows on July 2 and 3.