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Cougars put crown atop historic year

After 91-win season, Kane County sweeps Midwest League playoffs
September 13, 2014

Before Game 3 of the Midwest League Championship Series on Saturday night, Kane County pitchers speculated that if the Cougars won, the final out would be a strikeout. But first baseman Jacob Rogers had a different vision. He insisted the final out would be a fly ball or ground ball.

Twenty-seven outs later, Rogers proved correct as he fielded Richard Stock's ground ball and stepped on first base to complete a 7-2 win at Lake County and seal the Cougars' first title since 2001.

"I guess I was right, so it was kind of a good feeling," the 25-year-old said. "It was big to come in here and sweep these guys. We didn't expect to, we knew it was going to be a tough ballgame, but we got it done."

The final out completed a three-game sweep of the Captains as Kane County completed a perfect postseason. The reward was the second championship in franchise history and the first as a Cubs' affiliate.

Indians No. 2 prospect Clint Frazier put Lake County on the board with an RBI double in the first inning, but Carlos Penalver tied it an inning later when he doubled home Rogers, who had drawn a leadoff walk. In the third, Jeimer Candelario -- the Cubs' 12th-ranked prospect -- singled and Rogers put the Cougars ahead for good with a two-run homer.

"It was very exciting. Early on, it was tough, but Jacob Rogers came through big. His presence was huge. His two-run homer took the life out of Lake County," Kane County left fielder Shawon Dunston said.

Kane County pulled away in the middle innings, getting a run-scoring single from Rogers in the fifth and RBI singles from Mark Zagunis and Yasiel Balaguert around Candelario's sacrifice fly in the sixth. Before long, the team was celebrating with a dog pile in the infield.

"One of the best feelings I've experienced. I've never dog-piled in high school or won a section or state title, so I really wanted to win," Dunston said. "It shows we have a deep system from top to bottom with the Cubs. It brings the best out of you and I'm glad to be a part of the Chicago Cubs system."

Daury Torrez (1-0), who led the league with a 1.00 WHIP during the regular season, got the win in the clincher after allowing a run on five hits over five innings. After Michael Heesch struck out six over three frames, Francisco Carrillo worked a 1-2-3 ninth.

"We're a very good team and we feed off each other and everyone works really hard. And we tried to stay focused on the one thing we talked about, and that's getting through one inning at a time," Heesch said. "The bullpen did a great job this year, especially this postseason, doing that and just keeping everyone's head on right just throughout the playoffs and really just sticking to the very basic fundamentals of what we're doing.

"And that's just taking it one step at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. And that goes to show for the whole team and everyone around."

The Cougars topped the Minor Leagues with 91 regular-season wins, reeling off 13 in a row during one stretch. After going 7-0 in the playoffs, they became the first team in professional baseball to reach 98 wins this year. Along the way, Mark Johnson was named Midwest League Manager of the Year.

"I give all the credit our staff. Our coaching staff did a great job. Every day, they came in, same routine," Rogers said. "We did early work for hitting, pitchers went out there and stretched and did their thing, so I give all the credit to them, they kept us on a line and knew what we wanted to do in the end."

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.