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Balego powers Cubs into AZL semifinals

Infield prospect homers, doubles, plates two in playoff opener
Cam Balego was the Cubs' 30th-round pick in this year's Draft out of Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania. (Zachary Lucy/Four Seam Images)
September 4, 2017

 As professional debuts go, Cam Balego enjoyed a solid season in the Rookie-level Arizona League.His first exposure to playoff baseball went even better.

 As professional debuts go, Cam Balego enjoyed a solid season in the Rookie-level Arizona League.
His first exposure to playoff baseball went even better.

Balego homered, doubled and drove in two runs on Sunday night to lead the Cubs to a 9-6 win over the Brewers in the Arizona League playoff opener at Maryvale Baseball Park. 
Box score
The 22-year-old kicked off the scoring with a two-run shot to left field in the second inning. It was his second homer as a pro after he went deep once in 98 at-bats during the regular season. He doubled to left leading off the fourth and scored on Carlos Sepulveda's sacrifice fly. 
"It was really special to give our team the lead and get the momentum going in our direction early," said the 30th-round pick in this year's Draft. "The first few guys up before me had some really good at-bats. Our hitters were grinding and making it tough on [Brewers starter Phil Bickford]. [Hitting coach Osmin Melendez] told us before the game that their pitcher was going to attack us. When I was in the on-deck circle, he told me to be ready early, stay relaxed and hunt for my pitch.
"I got ahead in the count and was up there looking to put some positive contact on the baseball."

A corner infielder, Balego batted .286/.385/.449 with 14 extra-base hits and nine RBIs in 36 games during his professional debut in Arizona.
"This first year has been great," the Mercyhurst University product said. "I had a bunch of emotions running through my head on Draft day and when I got the call from [Cubs area scout Daniel Carte]. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I was in good hands with this organization. The positive atmosphere coming from everyone from [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] on down makes you feel like you've been here forever.
"I couldn't imagine being anywhere else than with the Cubs. The players I've met and played with already are like family to me. It's awesome."
Nelson Velazquez also homered and drove in two runs for the Cubs, who got two hits and two RBIs from Marcus Mastrobuoni.
Complete playoff coverage
The Brewers' Brent Diaz doubled twice and drove in two runs.
The Cubs will meet the Dodgers in the semifinals on Monday night at Camelback Ranch.
In other playoff action: 
AZL Rangers 4, AZL Mariners 3
Francisco Ventura slugged a go-ahead solo homer in the eighth inning as the Rangers rallied past the Mariners. Sam Huff's RBI single with two outs in the eighth tied the game for the Rangers, who scored three times to erase a 3-0 deficit. Relievers Seth Nordlin and Greidy Martinez combined to allow one hit while striking out 10 over six scoreless innings. Mariners prospect Tommy Romero surrendered one hit and struck out nine in six innings of scoreless relief. The Rangers face the Giants in the semifinals on Monday night in Scottsdale.

Michael Avallone is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MavalloneMiLB.