A couple of inches made all the difference in the world Tuesday night for the Quad-Cities River Bandits.
Kane County’s Blaze Alexander opened the ninth inning with a line-hugging single to left, the same route Kristian Robinson followed with a double that positioned the Cougars to rally for a pair of runs and sting Quad-Cities 3-2 at Modern Woodmen Park.
“That single, that double, they did us in,’’ said River Bandits manager Ray Hernandez whose team lost for just the second time in the 63 games it has led going into the ninth inning.
“I probably should have had my third baseman (Grae Kessinger) closer to the line on the single. I’ll wear that one. Kane County took it from us.’’
Quad-Cities cruised through seven innings, riding the pitching of Jose Rivera and Valente Bellozo while maintaining the 2-0 lead it took when two runs scored on a double by Trey Dawson in the fourth inning.
Rivera and Bellozo had combined to allow two singles and had struck out 11 batters before the Cougars began their comeback.
Winning its third straight over the River Bandits in the four-game series, Kane County maintained its one-game lead over Clinton in the Western Division race and cut its magic number to earn a second-half playoff berth to one with the win.
The Cougars sliced the Quad-Cities lead in half in the eighth when Bellozo hit Brandon Leyton with a pitch and he eventually scored on a Dominic Fletcher double to left.
Kane County then quickly erased the River Bandits 2-1 lead in the ninth, tying the game when Alexander scored from first on Robinson’s double.
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Robinson then scored the winning run on a single to right by Leyton to hand Bellozo his first loss in seven decisions this season while splitting time between short-season Tri-City and Quad-Cities.
The River Bandits’ Alex Holderbach and C.J. Stubbs singled with two outs in the ninth before the Cougars’ Kai-Wei Lin came in from the bullpen to strikeout Carlos Machado and end any Quad-Cities comeback hopes.
“Dawson, Holderbach, Stubbs, they put up some tough at-bats, didn’t shy away from anything,’’ Hernandez said. “We needed just one more hit. It was a tough series and Kane County got us in the end.’’
The beginning belonged to Rivera, who set a dominating tone while recording six of his career-high nine strikeouts in the game’s first two innings.
The hard-throwing right hander needed just four innings to match his previous career best of eight, starting a string of 15 consecutive Kane County batters retired when he struck out Leyton to end the top of the second.
Working in a planned tandem start with Bellozo, Rivera walked a pair of batters and surrendered just one hit during a five-inning start.
“When he has it going like that, there aren’t a lot of guys who are going to get hits off of him,’’ Hernandez said. “He came out ready tonight and there wasn’t much they could do about it.’’
A one-out single in the top of the first inning by Fletcher was the only hit the Cougars would muster until Tra Holmes beat out an infield single in the top of the seventh.
“We just weren’t able to hold on at the end and Kane County had something to do with that,’’ Hernandez said. “Like our guys, they kept battling and their pitchers have a way to take the confidence out of you. After the last three days, I think we’re looking forward to seeing somebody else.''