Winston helps pitch team to division crown

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jake Winston and his Kane County bullpen teammates joked among themselves last Saturday night about who would be on the mound to close out a division title for the Cougars.

Turns out, the pitcher selected was the former Trinity Episcopal star.

Winston recorded the final six outs, allowing just one baserunner while striking out another to give Kane County a 14-2 victory over the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and a First-Half Western Division Championship of the Class A Midwest League.

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“That was cool,” Winston said. “The last three weeks, we played really well. We kind of hit a lull in the middle of the season. But the last 13 to 15 games, we competed every day and played hard, and we got it done.”

Kane County (39-28) entered the Class A All-Star break winners of its final seven games. And with the first-half division title in tow, the Cougars also clinched a postseason playoff spot. It was the team’s first since the 2014 season.

“Anytime that you can clinch a playoff spot with a win, that’s an awesome feeling,” Winston said.
The two scoreless frames lowered the Vidalia native’s ERA for the year to 2.22 in 30 innings pitched across two separate leagues.

Winston, who was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft, bounced back and forth to start the season between extended spring training and the Diamondbacks’ AAA affiliate.

The former University of Southern Mississippi star appeared in three games for Class AAA Reno, logging six innings and allowing just two earned runs in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.

It would be Winston’s second time through with the Aces before he finally got his chance on the mound, and he ended his time with Reno with a three-inning scoreless performance.

“After my last AAA appearance, the (Diamondbacks’ minor league) director told me they wanted me to find myself in a real bullpen, so they sent me to Kane, and I was able to do just that,” Winston said.

He sure did.

Over his final 13.1 innings with the Cougars, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander allowed just three earned runs while striking out 14 batters.

Winston said he has developed a strong bond with his fellow 2016 draftees, with some of the selections currently a part of the squad based in Geneva, Ill.,

“We went to Hillsboro (Oregon) together (last year), and we all kind of meshed together,” he said. “It helped because we are southern boys — Texas, Florida, Alabama  — and we all kind of stuck together. It’s just one of things that came together. When you come from a small town, you find the guys from the south, and you kind of stick together.”

Winston and the Cougars will begin their second half tonight against Wisconsin.