Unhittable Underwood gets Cougars close

Cubs right-hander fans career-high eight for 2-0 lead in MWL Finals

Duane Underwood ranked third on Kane County with 84 strikeouts this season. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | September 12, 2014 1:11 AM

Facing chilly conditions, Duane Underwood remembered how he handled low temperatures earlier in the season and reverted to mid-April form. And then he heated back up.

The right-handed Cubs prospect tossed six hitless frames to help the Class A Kane County Cougars blank the Lake County Captains, 6-0, on Thursday to take a 2-0 series lead in the best-of-5 Midwest League Finals.

"I was trying to do everything I could to help my team win," the 20-year-old said. "Tonight was big. Now we just need to get one more win on the road."

Underwood tied a personal best with eight strikeouts, but also set a career high with five walks. Three of those free passes came in the fourth when two of the Indians' top four prospects Clint Frazier (No. 2) and Bradley Zimmer (No. 4) led off the frame with walks. A strikeout later, Underwood put Paul Hendrix aboard, but the Cougars defense got their starter out of the bases-loaded jam with a double play.

"I got ahead of some batters, and instead of keeping with the approach, I got too fine," said the 2012 second-round pick. "I knew I had to make a pitch and not repeat what happened last game. It worked out. ... It was huge."

In the Georgia native's last start against Wisconsin in the quarterfinals on Sept. 4, he exited after allowing three runs in the fourth, but he was ready for a second chance Thursday.

After Underwood (1-0) spun a perfect fifth, his coaches asked him whether he would be able to go another frame. Since it was an unusual question, the 6-foot-2 hurler looked at the scoreboard and realized the Captains had a zero in the hit column. Even with the bid on his mind, Underwood went out and hurled a 1-2-3 sixth to match his longest career start.

"I knew I had to come back strong and help my team win," he said of his off days since the tough start. "I wanted to go out [in the seventh], but I think I was on a pitch count and [reliever Tyler Ihrig] did a great job."

Ihrig carried the bid into the eighth, when Richard Stock and Grant Fink led off the frame with singles, but he worked around the knocks. Ihrig struck out four over three innings to pick up his second save of the postseason.

Mark Zagunis collected three hits for the Cougars while Shawon Dunston scored three runs and drove in another.

"[The early lead] was huge; the hitters did a good job today," Underwood said. "Even though the other team had four errors, they really put the ball in play."

The series shifts to Lake County for Saturday night. Kane County, still undefeated this postseason, is one win away from clinching the championship.

"Our clubhouse -- we've been confident all year. We're just trying to keep it the same, nothing's changed," Underwood said. "We're just trying to stay calm, cool and collected, keep everything smooth."

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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