South Bend Cubs claim second crown in three years

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(Photo Supplied/South Bend Cubs)

Just call them the do-or-die kids.

In their second consecutive decisive Game 3 of the postseason, the High-A South Bend Cubs again rose to the occasion by slugging their way to a Midwest League crown with a 7-4 victory over Lake County in the Championship Series on Wednesday at Classic Park. It was the second league title in three seasons for the Chicago affiliate.

“To win two Game 3’s like this, both on the road, we just never quit in that dugout,” South Bend skipper Lance Rymel said. “As long as we have a heartbeat, we have a chance and to do that against two really good ballclubs like that really says a lot about this group and how bad they wanted it.”

So South Bend used a familiar formula in its championship-clinching victory after pacing the circuit all season in hits (1,095) and batting average (.252). The club combined for 10 knocks, with every starter but one recording at least one hit, and three long balls.

“We really just wanted this all along and credit to all the guys,” Rymel said. “They worked for this every single day. They got better every single day — you can see it from the first half to the second half — just bringing that work ethic every single day to the park, and now we’re celebrating!”

After dropping Game 1 of the Finals to the Captains, the Cubs fended off elimination by edging Lake County, 4-3, on Tuesday. South Bend then struck first — and in a big way — in the winner-take-all contest.

Cubs’ 10th-ranked prospect Owen Caissie turned around a 3-1 fastball from Captains starter Aaron Davenport and crushed it to right field for a three-run homer that opened the scoring in the third inning. With a runner on and two outs later in the frame, Pablo Aliendo took another 3-1 offering from the right-hander and deposited it beyond the wall in left-center to cap a five-run frame.

Lake County responded quickly with three runs in the bottom portion of the inning. A pair of RBI singles — including one from 21st-ranked Guardians prospect Milan Tolentino — and a run-scoring wild pitch by Cubs starter Porter Hodge kept the Captains in the game.

But after Caissie led off the fifth with a fourth-pitch walk, Luis Verdugo stepped in against Lake County reliever Raymond Burgos and didn’t miss a 3-1 heater from the lefty, sending in into orbit beyond the center-field fence. It was each player’s first dinger of the Finals.

“We knew we had to score some runs tonight and get a spark, and with O.C. doing that, hitting that absolute moonshot, it gave us the life we needed,” Rymel said. “And then Pablo and Verdugie, they did that all year for us, so I was really glad they could do it in such a big moment for them too.”

For Those That Show What They Are Made Of Day In & Day Out

On the hill, Hodge exited after allowing three runs on five hits and a pair of walks with two strikeouts over five frames. The 21-year-old righty tossed 55 of his 88 pitches for strikes.

“That’s what we needed from him,” Rymel said of the organization’s No. 22 prospect. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but he grinded through five innings and gave us a chance in the end. So that effort, with some very nice home runs, helped us secure the win.”

After taking Game 1 of the semifinals series against Cedar Rapids, 2-1, the Captains dropped Game 2 before scoring nine runs on 11 hits to cruise to a 9-2 win in Game 3 to clinch a spot in the Championship Series.

South Bend last won the Midwest League crown by sweeping Clinton in 2019.

“I just give all the credit to the players and coaches here who worked with them every day, all season long,” Rymel said. “They just paid attention to the details, worked relentlessly all year to improve each day, and it’s just such a special group that we have here. A lot of these guys are going to be in Wrigley pretty soon.”

Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter@RobTnova24.

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