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Hicks Comes Up Big In 9th As Kernels Defeat Kane County

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CEDAR RAPIDS Most guys go to Mexico or the Caribbean to get in their offseason baseball work. J.D. Williams traveled a little farther.

Half-a-world away, 14-hour plane ride farther.

"I probably couldn't do that again," said the Cedar Rapids Kernels outfielder, who doubled leading off the ninth inning and scored on a Dalton Hicks sacrifice fly to give their team an 8-7 win Sunday afternoon over Kane County at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

It was the third walk-off win in their last four games for the Kernels (29-13).

Williams spent last October through February in Australia as a member of the Sydney Blue Sox, where one of his teammates was Kernels teammate Tim Atherton, a native Aussie. The Minnesota Twins wanted Williams to work with Sydney Manager Jason Pospishil, also a coach in their minor-league system.

"Just get more work in, more at-bats, repetition. You definitely learn from that, no matter what league you're in," said Williams, who also homered Sunday. "Getting used to the hours (was the tough thing). Sleeping. They're just a day ahead of us, about 16 hours ahead or something like that. So when I was practicing or playing, I'd actually be asleep here. It was a lot different trying to get used to that and everything."

Judging by early results, his long journey was worth it. Williams a 22-year-old switch-hitter and son of former big leaguer Reggie Williams has improved at the plate in every facet from a year ago, when he hit .234 and struck out 115 times in 97 games for Beloit of the Midwest League.

He has a nice little walk-strikeout ratio of 25-28 so far and .255 batting average. He's also one of the fastest baserunners in the Twins organization.

"I think the thing with J.D. is staying down on his swing and just staying positive," said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer. "He's a passionate person, he can get really high and really low. He's got to stay the course. In this game, you can't have that football mentality."

Cedar Rapids appeared to have this game wrapped, but ninth-place hitter David Bote lined a game-tying two-run home run to left with two outs in the ninth inning against Kernels reliever Alex Muren. Williams lofted a twisting fly toward the big wall in left to start the C.R. ninth, with Cougars left field Rock Shoulders playing toward left-center unable to make the play on what appeared to be a catchable ball.

Byron Buxton sacrifice bunted Williams to third. Two intentional walks followed, and Hicks worked a 3-1 count before lofting his winning fly the other way to left.

Kernels attendance is at its highest to this point in the season as its been since 2005. The club is averaging 1,800 fans through its first 18 dates.

"It's the Twins and having a winning record," Kernels General Manager Doug Nelson said. "Having an exciting team."

Nelson was asked if affiliating with Minnesota has turned out to be the right decision for the Kernels.

"I'd say it's worked out very well," he said, with a smile.

Cedar Rapids and Kane County play again Monday afternoon at 12:05.