The Cougars are finding all manners of ways to win this summer.
For a change Friday, they did it with the long ball.
The Cougars clubbed four of the night’s six solo home runs — two of them coming off the bat of Ben Carhart — in a 6-3 win over Beloit in the opener of a five-game, four-day wraparound weekend series at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Jake Hannemann’s homer on the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth inning, his sixth of the season, snapped a 2-2 tie. Carhart followed with his second blast of the game. Jacob Rogers earlier hit his team-leading ninth homer.
“I’ve never seen anything like that — the first six runs were home runs,” Carhart said. “I was talking to the other team saying ‘Not a lot of home runs get hit here.’ To have six of them, it was a great game to watch and fun to be a part of.”
It was an uncharacteristic power surge for a Cougars club enjoying a banner summer. The win moved them to 60-30 overall, 15-5 for the second half.
Kane County came into Friday with just 40 homers, tied for 11th in the Midwest League.
For one night at least, Carhart and the hitters have bragging rights on the Cougars’ pitchers.
“All year we’ve talked about this team doesn’t hit home runs, and the pitchers give us crap for it,” Carhart smiled. “That was nice to get them to be quiet a little bit. Any way you can win the game.”
It was the third time this season the Cougars had seen strike-throwing Beloit starter Junior Mendez, and Carhart indicated they were ready.
“We know he likes to establish his fastball on the inner half and he was just leaving them over the plate tonight,” Carhart said. “Last time he was using his sinker well; tonight he was just leaving it over the middle.”
The homer binge came in handy for Cougars starter Duane Underwood, who won his third straight decision.
Underwood (4-2) was actually a victim of the gopher ball himself, surrendering solo shots to BA Vollmuth and Luis Baez after allowing just four homers in 56⅔ innings coming in.
It didn’t deter an otherwise strong start, nothing new for Underwood and the Cougars. The Cubs’ second-round pick in 2012 struck out a season-high eight over six innings of five-hit ball with zero walks.
In his last three starts, Underwood has given up just three runs over 17 innings, with Friday’s win building on road victories at Beloit and Clinton. Underwood also finally broke through with a home victory. He came in 0-1 with a 4.94 ERA in Geneva as opposed to 3-1 and glittering 0.82 ERA on the road.
“Very positive outing for him,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “He’s improving, getting better and better. He’s frustrated with that (second homer) he gave up, but that’s a good learning experience for him.”
The Cougars led 1-0 and 2-1 before allowing tying solo homers to tie it, and appeared to be in danger of Underwood’s start being sabotaged in the top of the seventh.
Beloit’s first two batters reached base off Cougars reliever Zak Hermans, and the Snappers loaded the bases with two out.
Hermans got a strikeout to escape trouble, and the Cougars tacked on two runs in the bottom half on RBI singles by Hannemann and Kyle Schwarber.