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Kernels Losing Ground After Falling To Quad Cities

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CEDAR RAPIDS Heading into the final month of the Midwest League season, the first-place Cedar Rapids Kernels find themselves with a new challenger in its rear-view mirror.

Before a Saturday standing-room only crowd of 5,294 at Veterans Memorial Stadium, the Quad Cities River Bandits won their seventh game in row, 5-2, to pull within a half-game of the scuffling Kernels (26-15 second half) in the opener of a four-game series.

"We're playing with a lot of intensity, we're doing things right," said Quad Cities star shortstop Carlos Correa, who was 4-for-5 with two RBIs. "We're capitalizing from the other teams' mistakes, we're doing the right things, we're playing the right way, so it's working out pretty good."

Cedar Rapids was held to a run on two hits in seven innings by Bandits lefty Joe Bircher (3-1), while Kernels pitcher Mason Melotakis (9-4) lost for just the second time in his last 11 starts. Adam Brett Walker drove in his league-leading 93rd run with a sacrifice fly.

Quad Cities, which finished two-and-a-half games behind Cedar Rapids in the first half wild-card race, is chasing a second-half playoff berth.

"Everybody's working hard, everybody wants to be in the playoffs," Correa said. "We want to make the playoffs and keep playing in September, so that's what we're looking forward to."

Correa, 18, was the top overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft out of Puerto Rico. After hitting .221 with 23 strikeouts during a sluggish April, Correa torched Midwest League pitching at a .360 clip in May and June. Correa also cut down on his strikeouts, whiffing just 26 times over that span.

"It's a game of adjustments," said the 6-foot-4 Correa, who is third among active Midwest Leaguers with a .322 batting average. "I'm having a great season so far, so I just try to keep it going and keep putting up solid numbers."

Quad Cities' playoff hopes received a boost with the July arrival of 2013 draftee Mark Appel, also selected No. 1 overall by the parent Houston Astros. The 6-foot-5 right-hander from Stanford will start Tuesday's series finale. With Correa and Appel, the River Bandits are the first minor league squad with consecutive No. 1 overall picks on their roster.

"He's a great pitcher, he's helping us a lot," Correa said.

The teams play again Sunday at 2 p.m.
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