With 15 wins in their final 19 games, the Cedar Rapids Kernels propelled themselves to the Midwest League Western Division second-half title. After three games of their first-round series against the Clinton LumberKings, they're going home.
K.C. Herren stroked a go-ahead single in the sixth inning as Clinton edged Cedar Rapids, 5-4, to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
After the Kernels tied the score, 4-4, in the top of the sixth, Marcus Lemon hit a leadoff triple in the bottom half and scored on Herron's one-out base hit to left field.
After claiming the first-half Wild Card with a 41-26 mark, the LumberKings struggled in the second half, which was no surprise to manager Mike Micucci.
"We had a good club in the first half, but we moved a bunch of players up," Micucci said. "Outside of a handful of guys, it was almost a whole new club when we started the second half."
Micucci did like how the LumberKings started to come alive as the playoffs neared.
"We won a few games down the stretch, which seemed to get the club going in the right direction," he said. "We knew the playoffs would be tough, particularly facing a hot team like Cedar Rapids. We were kind of fortunate, but it was like a second season and I'm happy with the way the guys played."
Vallejo lifted a sacrifice fly and Herren stroked an RBI single during a three-run third for the LumberKings, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit. Micucci didn't worry about his club bouncing back after trailing early.
"We lost Game 1 and fell behind early in Game 2, but there was no panic," he said. "Everybody was just going about their business, which is what we preached to the team early in the season. We've got a good group and the kids played great. They deserve all of the credit."
Clinton reliever Jeremiah Haar (1-0) yielded one hit and struck out one over 2 2/3 scoreless frames for the win. Joshua Lueke fanned one in a perfect ninth to pick up his first save. Starter Evan Reed surrendered four runs -- three earned -- on nine hits with five strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.
Ryan Mount went 4-for-4 and hit .778 in the series, while Peter Bourjos collected two RBIs for the Kernels.
Cedar Rapids reliever Barret Browning (0-1) allowed a run on two hits and a walk with two strikeouts in 2 1/3 frames. Starter Sean O'Sullivan, who led the league with a 2.22 ERA, surrendered four runs on eight hits and two walks while fanning one in four innings.