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09/11/2006 12:13 AM ET
Cougars claw way past Snappers into finals
Kane County caps Midwest sweep with nine-run eighth inning
Rookie manager Aaron Nieckula and Kane County swept into the Midwest League title series. (Kane County Cougars)

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Steve Kleen belted a go-ahead single and Kane County pounded out a nine-run eighth inning to rout visiting Beloit, 15-3, on Sunday and advance to the Midwest League Championship Series.

Kane County took the lead in the sixth on Kleen's RBI line-drive single to left field. Matthew Sulentic followed with a run-scoring double to left, and Kleen plated on Frank Martinez's grounder to second base.

The Cougars blew open the game in the eighth. Chad Boyd ripped his first home run of the postseason, Sulentic lashed a two-run single and Martinez crushed a two-run double as Kane County took advantage of two fielding errors and reliever Frank Mata's wild pitching.

"We've put up some pretty big numbers, but I'm not sure if we've ever reached the nine-run mark [in an inning]," manager Aaron Nieckula said.

The first-year skipper credited the Oakland Athletics' organizational philosophy of being "selectively aggressive" for his team's offensive success.

"We teach the players their strike zone first and a byproduct is drawing walks and a high on-base percentage," Nieckula said.

John Herrera allowed three runs -- two earned -- on eight hits and one walk while striking out five over six innings. It was the 23-year-old right-hander's second start this season.

"Herrera did a phenomenal job," Nieckula said. "He kept batters off balance and kept us in the game. He executed."

The Cougars' manager gave Herrera the postseason start after the Redlands, Calif., native excelled in the bullpen.

"He threw the ball extremely well in the latter half of the season," Nieckula said. "He commanded the zone. He earned it."

Beloit's starter Ryan Mullins took the loss, tossing 5 1/3 frames and allowing five runs -- four earned -- on five hits and three walks while striking out five.

Jose Leger went 3-for-3 and Juan Portes rapped an RBI single in the fourth as the Snappers took an early 3-2 lead.

Kane County will face West Michigan for the Midwest League Championship. Despite winning three of four vs. the Whitecaps in their Aug. 14-17 series, the Cougars manager isn't taking anything for granted.

"That's over and done with," Nieckula said. "It'll be one heckuva battle."

Ryan McConnell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.