Cougars’ Jeimer Candelario drives in winning run to clinch series

One of the strengths of the Cougars this season has been the team’s calm demeanor in the face of adversity.

That was tested many times in the regular season, and was once again Thursday when the Cougars hosted Wisconsin in Game 2 of the first round of the Western Division playoffs.

Trailing for most of the night, the Cougars got a two-run homer from rehabbing Cubs infielder Mike Olt to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth, then pushed across a run five innings later when Jeimer Candelario singled with the bases loaded to give the Cougars the 4-3 victory.

That sends the Cougars into the Western Division finals, where they will travel to either Burlington or Cedar Rapids on Saturday night to start a three-game series. Those two teams will play a deciding Game 3 Friday in Cedar Rapids.

“This kind of game plays into our hands a little bit,” Cougars manager Mark Johnson said. “We had a lot of good opportunities, and we did get a little anxious at the plate, but defensively we played great and the bullpen did a heckuva job.

With starter Duane Underwood exiting the game after just 3 2/3 innings after allowing three runs, Michael Heesch, James Pugliese, Jasvir Rakkar and Francisco Carrillo (1-0) combined for 9 1/3 shutout innings while allowing four hits and striking out 10.

That kept the Cougars in it, because offensively they could do nothing against Timber Rattler starter Preston Gainey, who after allowing a run in the first on an RBI double from Candelario kept the Cougars off the board — and for the most part off the bases — into the seventh inning.

Trailing 3-1 into the eighth, the Cougars finally got an opportunity when Candelario was hit by a pitch to start things off, then Olt followed with a towering drive over the scoreboard in left field off Trevor Seidenberger that knotted the game at 3-3.

Olt, who had come to the Cougars as part of a rehab assignment Wednesday, made quite an impact during his two-game stint with the team, hitting two homers and driving in five runs. He’s expected to rejoin the Cubs on Friday.

“From the time he stepped into the clubhouse he’s been a super pro,” Johnson said. “He went about his business, hung out with the guys and was a true professional and a class act. It was good for the guys to see that.”

Olt was done for the game after that, finishing 2-for-4 with a double and the homer. That set in motion a tactical chess match for the remainder, featuring plenty of bunts, intentional walks and infield shifts.

The Cougars finally broke through when Trey Martin led off the 13th with a single, and advanced to third when Taylor Brennan threw away Shawon Dunston, Jr.’s sacrifice bunt attempt. Dunston moved to second on the error and after Chesny Young was intentionally walked, Candelario drilled a liner into left over the drawn in infield to end the game after four hours, 36 minutes.

Cougars 4, Wisconsin 3 (13 innings)

Recap: Jeimer Candelario had two RBIs, including the game-winner in the 13th inning, to pace the Cougars. Mike Olt, on a rehab assignment, homered for the second straight night.

Up next: Game 1 of the Midwest League Western Division Finals. Cougars (Daury Torrez, 11-7) at Burlington or Cedar Rapids, Saturday, TBA., WBIG-AM (1280), www.kccougars.com

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