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Midwest League: Cougars season had its ups and downs

Kane County second baseman JustTrapp is congratulated by teammate Jorge Bonifacio after home run July 5. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times

Kane County second baseman Justin Trapp is congratulated by teammate Jorge Bonifacio after a home run on July 5. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 14, 2012 10:09PM

One game.

Over the course of five months and 140 games, one game (a loss in particular) is what separated the Kane County Cougars from heading their separate ways earlier this week or still battling for a Midwest League championship.

The Cougars lost 72 times this year, but the final defeat — a 6-2 loss to Peoria last Monday — sealed the team’s fate. Instead Burlington, despite losing its final six games, advanced to the postseason. Kane County, meanwhile, stayed home for the first time since 2007.

Still, the Cougars won 68 games and finished fifth overall in the Western Division and were in the hunt until the final days of each of the season’s two halves.

The season also concluded a two-year player development agreement with the Kansas City Royals, and while sources indicated the Cougars will sign a new deal with the Cubs, the franchise itself goes into the offseason with its future affiliate up in the air.

A total of 48 players wore a Cougars uniform, and four of them — outfielders Lane Adams and Jorge Bonifacio, infielder Danny Mateo and pitcher Matt Ridings — played an extra home game as Kane County hosted the Midwest League All-Star game in June.

As is tradition with the end of a sports season, it’s time to hand out some awards.

Most Valuable Player

Jorge Bonifacio — Just 18 years old when the season started, the younger brother of Miami Marlin Emilio Bonifacio hit .340 in April and was batting .314 at the all-star break. A slump and a wrist injury limited Bonifacio to just 38 second-half games, and he finished the season third on the team with a .282 average while hitting 10 homers and driving in 61 runs. He also possessed one of the best outfield arms in the league and will be one of the Royals’ top prospects next season.

Special mention goes to second baseman Justin Trapp, who led the team in homers (12) and stolen bases (24) while hitting .317 from July 1 through the end of the season.

Most Valuable Pitcher

Angel Baez — This was difficult to pick as few pitchers lasted the entire season. Baez came to the Cougars in May having gone 0-15 over his first three pro seasons. But the hard-throwing right-hander went 6-5 with a 3.17 ERA with the Cougars while striking out 83 in 76 innings. He was especially tough in July, going 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA.

The Cougars had three pitchers who were Royals high-round picks in 2011 and 2012 take the mound in Bryan Brickhouse (3rd round, 2011), Kyle Smith (4th round, 2011) and Kyle Zimmer (1st round, 5th overall, 2012). Zimmer was the most impressive of the three, with a 2.43 ERA in six starts while striking out 29 in 29 innings.

Another 2012 draftee, Andrew Triggs, was a solid bullpen addition as he was 1-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 20 appearances. Right-handers hit just .158 against him.

Game of the Year

Cougars vs. Peoria, Sept. 2. — In a game they were playing for their postseason lives, the Cougars fell behind twice but rallied to tie the game in the eighth. Alex Llanos finally ended it with a walk-off single in the 10th, fitting as the Cougars made a habit of comeback wins.

So ends the Cougars’ 22nd season, although the offseason presents some interesting storylines. One thing is a given, though, the Cougars will open the 2013 season against Quad Cities April 3 at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

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