The Peoria Chiefs won their first playoff series in 13 years as Austin Gomber threw six solid innings, Nick Thompson homered and the defense and bullpen turned in big plays in a 3-2 win over the Kane County Cougars Thursday night. With the sweep the Chiefs will play the Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Western Division Finals best-of-three series starting Saturday at 6:00 p.m. at Dozer Park.
After the Chiefs went in order in the top of the first the Cougars used a two-out rally to take their first lead of the series. Austin Gomber struck out Ildemaro Vargas and got Collin Bray to flyout before Marty Herum reached on a single that deflected off Gomber’s glove. Cody Regis doubled off the right-field wall on a full-count pitch to easily score Herum for the 1-0 Cougars lead.
The Chiefs responded immediately against Cougars starter Brad Keller. Alex DeLeon reached on an infield single down the third base line with two outs in the second. Nick Thompson, who led the Chiefs with 12 home runs in the regular season, launched a two-run homer off the video board in left-center to give the Chiefs a 2-1 lead.
Peoria added on against Keller in the sixth inning. Oscar Mercado was hit by a pitch to start the inning and Harrison Bader also got hit by a pitch with one out. With two down DeLeon singled to left and Mercado beat the throw to the plate for a 3-1 Chiefs lead.
Gomber kept the Cougars off the board in the bottom of the sixth and gave way to Nick Frey for the seventh. With one out Frey allowed back-to-back singles to Henry Castillo and Joe Munoz. Sasha Kuebel came out of the bullpen and walked Michael Perez to load the bases. Victor Reyes singled to right to score Castillo but Thompson’s throw to the plate was in time to get Munoz for the second out. With runners on second and third and two outs, Kuebel got former Chiefs infielder Ildemaro Vargas to fly out to center to end the inning with the Chiefs on top 3-2.
Cougars pitcher Zac Curtis and skipper Mark Grudzielanek were both ejected during a heated top of the ninth. A check swing sent both over the edge though the Chiefs did not add an insurance run in the inning. Kyle Grana took over on the mound for the Chiefs in the bottom of the ninth and allowed a leadoff single to Dawel Lugo. With one out Munoz struck out looking, spiked his helmet and was ejected before shoving the home plate umpire. Perez popped out to third base to end the game and give the Chiefs the series win.
Gomber (1-0) allowed one run on six hits over six innings while striking out seven and not issuing a walk. Frey allowed one run on two hits over 1/3 of an inning. Kuebel allowed a hit and a walk over one shutout inning. Tyler Brey retired both batters he faced. Grana allowed a hit in a shutout ninth inning for the save.