CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA - Jimmy Kerrigan and Lewin Diaz led the Kernels to a 6-5 victory over Kane County in game one of the Midwest League Quarterfinals on Wednesday night. Kerrigan's RBI single in the eighth inning scored Lewin Diaz, who recorded three doubles and four RBI in the game. The Kernels travel to Kane County for game two on Thursday night with a chance to sweep the series and advance to the Western Division Championship Series for the fourth consecutive year.
With the game tied 5-5, Diaz led off the eighth inning with an opposite-field double - his third double of the game - before eventually scoring. Diaz led the Midwest League with 33 doubles during the regular season, posting a season-high two doubles in a game just once.
Kerrigan started his at-bat by trying to put down a sacrifice bunt. However, he popped the first two attempts into the stands for a foul ball. He then worked the count to 2-2 as Diaz reached third on a wild pitch. Kerrigan's RBI single to right shot past the drawn-in infield and scored Diaz for the game-winning run.
Diaz finished the night 3-for-4 with three doubles and four RBI. Kerrigan went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI. Travis Blankenhorn also added two hits and a run scored. Aaron Whitefield scored twice.
The Kernels quickly jumped ahead 3-0 in the first inning as the first four batters reached. Whitefield walked, Blankenhorn singled to left and Caleb Hamilton drew a base on balls to load the bags with no outs. Diaz then ripped a two-run double to the wall in right field, scoring Whitefield and Blankenhorn to the put the Kernels up a pair. Kerrigan followed with a RBI groundout that plated Hamilton.
Kane County responded with two runs in the top of the second inning to cut the Kernels lead to 3-2 as a couple of two-out errors extended the inning. Eudy Ramos became the first Cougar to get on when he reached on Jordan Gore's fielding error at shortstop. Stephen Smith came up next and reached on Hamilton's fielding error at third base. Adam Walton then singled to load the bases. Manny Jefferson's two-out, two-run single snuck through the right side of the infield and scored both Ramos and Smith.
Diaz doubled home two more in the bottom of the second inning. His two-out two-bagger pushed the Kernels lead to 5-2 by scoring Gore and Whitefield, who both singled. Diaz pulled this double into the right-center gap to put the Kernels up by three.
Kane County closed their deficit to 5-3 with a run in the third inning. Marcus Wilson was hit by a pitch with one out. Ramon Hernandez and Jose Herrera both singled to load the bases. With two outs, Stephen Smith reached on an infield RBI single to the right side. This scored Wilson and trimmed the Kernels lead to two.
Hernandez tied the game 5-5 in the seventh inning with a two-run home run that he lofted to left. The long ball by Hernandez, who hit 13 home runs in the regular season, scored Anfernee Grier after he led off the inning with a walk.
Tyler Wells started for the Kernels and went 5 2/3 innings. He allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits while striking out eight and walking none, finishing an out away from a quality start. Ryan Mason was charged with a blown save as he allowed the Hernandez home run over 1 1/3 innings of work.
Logan Lombana (1-0) earned the win, working a perfect eighth inning with one strikeout. Hector Lujan - the league's saves leader in the regular season - pitched a perfect ninth inning for the save. The game ended on a diving catch by Shane Carrier in right field.
Mack Lemieux lasted just 1 2/3 innings, his shortest start of the year for Kane County. Getting the start on his 21st birthday, Lemieux allowed five runs on five hits, striking out one and walking two. Lemieux had pitched at least six innings in his last six starts, but recorded just five outs in the game. Tyler Mark recorded one out in the second inning.
Connor Grey (0-1) threw five innings in relief and allowed one run on four hits for the loss. He struck out four and walked one in his first appearance since tossing a perfect game last Friday at Clinton. Erbert Gonzalez hit one batter but struck out three in a scoreless inning.
Hernandez led the offense for the Cougars as he went 2-for-4 with the two-run home run. Jefferson went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBI.
Game two of the series is tomorrow night at Kane County. First pitch from Northwestern Medicine Field in Geneva, Ill. is at 6:30 p.m.
RHP Clark Beeker (11-3, 2.03) starts for the Kernels against Kane County's RHP Sam McWilliams (11-6, 2.84).
If necessary, game three will be played on Friday night in Geneva at 6:30 p.m.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.