CEDAR RAPIDS - The Cedar Rapids Titans and Sioux Falls Storm have met in the conference title game in each of the past four seasons.
If the Titans have any hope to make it five, they will need to dig out of an ever-increasing hole.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It was gratifying enough to win their first Midwest League playoff series in sweep style. But the way the Cedar Rapids Kernels were able to overcome a couple of “ringers” to do it had to feel even better.
A 3-1 win in Game 2 Thursday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium closed out the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers in convincing fashion. It’s on to the Western Division finals for a third consecutive year for the Kernels.
Clinton is the opponent, with another best-of-three series beginning Saturday afternoon at 4:05 at The Popper. Games 2 and 3, if needed, shift to Clinton.
The Kernels were able to overcome a pair of hits and an RBI from Wisconsin center fielder Corey Ray, the parent Milwaukee Brewers top draft pick in June. They also beat Timber Rattlers pitcher Marcos Diplan.
Ray joined Wisconsin from high-Class A for the final three games of the regular season and the playoffs. Diplan also spent the last half of the season in high-A but got sent back to the Midwest League for Thursday night’s start.
“I don’t know how it worked out, how for whatever reason they ended up here,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. “Our guys didn’t miss a beat. They’re pretty competitive.”
“I don’t think we were even thinking about who was pitching, where he came from and stuff,” said Kernels first baseman Zander Wiel. “We just wanted to take care of this series as fast as possible. Obviously that’s always what you want to do. We got off to a good start last night. Tonight wasn’t the same type of game, but we played well, Eddie threw a great game, we put enough runs up and held them down.”
Eddie is Eduardo Del Rosario, who simply outpitched Diplan. The skinny right-hander from the Dominican Republic went six innings, giving up five hits and a run, continuing a terrific stretch of baseball the final two months of the regular season.
With a three-pitch mix that includes a low to mid-90s fastball, Del Rosario went a combined 6-0 with an earned run average in the low 2s in July and August.
“Your first starts are always tough, getting used to another league and everything,” said Del Rosario, through teammate and translator Nelson Molina. “But I worked a lot, a lot better, a lot more on my pitches in the bullpen between starts. I think that has been the key. Keep working harder, and I got the results.”
“He’s got good stuff, if he can just control himself,” Mauer said. “That’s part of the process. Getting these guys to play in a playoff atmosphere. I thought he settled down and grinded through some innings, kept it right there.”
Wisconsin took the lead in the top of the third on Ray’s two-out single to right field. Casey Scoggins doubled down the first-base line with one out in the bottom of the inning and scored on a Luis Arraez two-out single to left-center.
The MWL’s batting champ went 4-for-4 and was 7-for-9 in the two games of this series. Cedar Rapids won Game 1 on Wednesday night, 11-3.
Wiel, the league’s RBI champ, then lined a Diplan fastball to dead center and just over the glove of Ray for a triple that put the Kernels on top, 2-1. Travis Blankenhorn’s ensuing grounder found a way to get through the right side of the infield for a third run.
That was enough. Tom Hackimer and Anthony McIver followed Del Rosario with three shutout innings out of the bullpen.
“It was a little tougher scoring runs tonight,” Mauer said. “They had a little different gameplan, and that Diplan kid is all right. He’s got a pretty good arm. I thought it was a pretty well-played game all the way around. We took advantage of some big hits that we bunched together and were able to pull it out.”
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