The lights dimmed over Classic Park and the gates locked for the final time this season on Saturday evening, as the curtain also closed over the Captains’ 2014 season. The team exited the locker room after having been swept in three games by the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League Championship series, suffering a 7-2 loss in the last game of the best-of-five series.
With the win, Kane County earned the title of Midwest League Champions for the second time in franchise history.
The Captains, who finished the first half of their season with the worst record in the Midwest League, made a surprising turnaround in the latter half of 2014, sweeping both of their competitors in the first two playoff series to advance to the Midwest League Championships.
Unfortunately, their sweeping momentum came to an end as the Captains began to look a bit like the Captains of early in the season, as they reverted to sloppy defense and had their bats quieted by Kane County’s pitching staff.
The Captains had southpaw Anderson Polanco on the mound, who boasted a 1-0 record and 3.18 ERA in the playoffs thus far. He was matched by Kane County’s right hander Daury Torrez, whose playoff record stood at 0-0 and 1.80 ERA.
Polanco issued a leadoff walk in the top of the second to Cael Brockmeyer, who advanced to third on a single from Daniel Lockhart. Carlos Penalver smacked a double into right field to then score Brockmeyer and tie the game at one.
The tie did not last long, however, as Jacob Rogers crushed a homer to right center field to give Kane County a 3-1 lead in the top of the third. The Captains showed potential in the bottom of the third, as they started the inning with two singles, though no runs were scored before the inning’s end.
Kane County continued to dominate the Captains as the game continued, racking up 11 hits by the top of sixth as they led with a score of 5-1. They increased their lead to 6-1 after a sloppy play at third in which Paul Hendrix caught Shawon Dunston stealing third, though Dunston remained on base after the ball plopped out of Hendrix’s mitt and was called an error, Hendrix’s second error of the night. Dunston then scored on a double hit by Mark Zagunis who then crossed home on a single from Yasiel Balaguert to increase the lead to 7-1.
Following relief appearances from Robbie Aviles, Justin Brantley, and Carlos Melo, Trevor Frank pitched the final inning for Lake County, holding the Cougars to their seven runs. Richard Stock was thrown out at first to end the game and give Kane County the title.
Both Captains players and managerial staff were disappointed by the loss, but acknowledged that this final series was simply a result of the better team getting the best of the Captains.
“Kane County played better than use in all facets,” Manager Mark Budzinski said of the series. “They pitched better, they hit better, they played better defense, they ran the bases better. We just got beat flat out in three games. In this series, the better team won.”
“We didn’t play well,” Budzinski continued. “Sometimes, good teams put a lot of pressure on you and you crack and that’s what happened. But you have to give them credit — we didn’t play good baseball and they played better in all facets of the game.”
“One through nine in their lineup, they all put the ball in play,” Budzinski said of Kane County. “They grind out at bats, their pitchers for the most part threw strikes, coming out of the pen, they got ahead in the count, and they have some guys who can run so they put pressure on you on the bases as well. They’re a very well-balanced team that played, from start to finish. They had the best record in minor league baseball — and it’s for a reason.”
“We didn’t play our best,” Hendrix said of the final game, adding that facets of the Captains’ performance — such as sloppy defense — were no reflection on a lack of talent. “It’s the game of baseball — things happened to go the wrong way.”
Despite the loss, the Captains still ended the season with a sense of pride, having risen from a team no one would have expected to be playing into the middle of September into the runners-up for the Midwest League Championship title. And that is no small feat.
“A lot of teams that struggled like we did in April and May would have continued going south and had bad attitudes, but we had none of that,” Budzinski said of his team. “We had guys that stayed positive and believed in themselves and were great teammates. We’re excited for them for that.”
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer