GENEVA, Ill. — In an inning of well-placed hits, Trey Cabbage provided the most well-placed one. Over the fence in right field.
The designated hitter had a three-run home run to cap a six-run fourth as the Kernels beat Kane County, 7-3, in Game 2 of their Midwest League playoff series Thursday night, sweeping the best-of-three set.
Cedar Rapids is in the Western Division finals for the fourth consecutive year, playing at either Quad Cities or Peoria in the first game of a best-of-three series Saturday night. Things shift to Cedar Rapids for Game 2 Sunday afternoon at 4:05, with an if-necessary third game Monday night at 6:35 at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Quad Cities and Peoria have a winner-take-all Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Friday night.
“What else do you play for, man?” Cabbage said. “You go out and try to get a ring, play the best you can for the team. Luckily we got these two quick, and hopefully we can move on to the next series and keep that momentum going.”
“This is a testament to the work the guys have put in all year,” said Manager Tommy Watkins. “We got some new guys (for the second half), but they jumped on board with what we were doing here. It has has paid off.”
Kane County starting pitcher Sam McWilliams retired the first nine Kernels he faced, but things changed quickly in the telltale fourth. Aaron Whitefield reached leading off on an infield single to shortstop, and the spigots opened.
Four more singles, some of them just simply well placed, scored three runs to give Cedar Rapids a 3-2 lead.
Cabbage then pulled an 0-1 McWilliams fastball for his game-changing homer.
“Going in, we had a pretty good idea what he was going to do to us,” Cabbage said. “We were seeing pitches well, got a few guys on that inning without really catching any hard contact, catching any barrels. As the old saying goes, bloop, bloop and a blast. I was fortunate enough to have the blast.”
“He absolutely crushed it. A no-doubter off the bat,” Watkins said.
The manager said hitting coach Brian Dinkelman and video intern Sam Berk watched video of McWilliams, an 11-game winner and one of the top pitchers this season in the MWL, and discovered he would tip what pitches he was throwing at times.
“You know what, we got a hit and got him in the stretch. We had something on him, and it was more out of the stretch than in the windup,” Watkins said. “Once we got him into the stretch, we kind of had an idea what was coming. That’s attributed to the video Sam and Dink watched of him, and them being able to pick something up on him.”
Kernels starting pitcher Clark Beeker, the MWL’s earned run average champ, gave up a pair of runs in the second inning but ended up giving his club seven innings to get the victory. Kane County got an unearned run with two outs in the seventh against him, but Beeker struck out Ramon Hernandez with the bases loaded to keep his team in the lead, 6-3.
Colton Davis got five outs out of the bullpen for the Kernels, with Hector Lujan (the MWL’s saves leader in the regular season) inducing Hernandez to ground to second with two on to move Cedar Rapids into the next round.