Greg Billo was coming off the most successful season of his four-year career. Unfazed by the pressure of meaningful September baseball, he continued to dominate in his playoff debut.
The Royals prospect allowed three hits and a walk while striking out seven over seven innings Wednesday as the Kane County Cougars blanked the Burlington Bees, 4-0, in Game 1 of their Midwest League first-round series.
"I would put this up there as one of my top ones," Billo said. "I was feeling good and the extra day of rest helped. It was unbelievable and I was ecstatic to be pitching in the first game. It would be unbelievable [to win a championship]. It would be the ultimate cap to finish off a great season."
Billo (1-0) faced the minimum through three innings and did not allow a ball to leave the infield until Josh Whitaker ripped a two-out double to left field in the fourth.
"I was sticking mostly to fastballs away and then two-seamers in and two-seamers away. I mixed in a curveball, too," he said. "My approach was to get ahead early. They have a lot of power hitters and I wanted to get into pitcher's counts."
After a perfect fifth and sixth, Billo gave up two singles in the seventh. But the 21-year-old right-hander got Douglas Landaeta to ground out to first base on his final pitch of the night.
"The defense was huge," Billo said. "We had a one-run lead in the seventh and [Josh] Whitaker bunted for a base hit to lead off the inning and I threw it away. The second baseman [Angel Franco] came up with it and threw him out at second. It was a huge play in the game."
Selected in the 28th round of the 2008 Draft, the midseason All-Star has put up impressive numbers this year. He was 9-5 with a league-leading 1.93 ERA in 27 games, including 18 starts, for Kansas City's Class A affiliate. He also struck out 119 batters over 135 innings and held opponents to a .228 batting average.
Nick Rogers finished up with two innings of hitless relief for the Cougars, who pitched nine shutouts during the regular season.
Bees starter Blake Hassebrock (0-1) took the hard-luck loss. He retired the first 11 batters he faced and did not allow a hit until the fifth inning. He yielded an unearned run in the sixth on a walk, a passed ball, a sacrifice and a sacrifice fly by Geulin Beltre.
The best-of-3 series continues Thursday in Burlington.
In other Midwest League playoff action:
River Bandits 9, LumberKings 5
Jonathan Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a homer, double and five RBIs and Oscar Taveras contributed three hits and three RBIs as Quad Cities won its series opener. Ronny Gil scored four runs starter Boone Whiting recorded nine strikeouts over six innings. Box score