Kernels Get Early Homers In Opening Night Win

By Jeff Johnson, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — One game in, and this affiliation change is already paying off for the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

Off the field, you had the largest opening-night crowd in five years, with several of the 1,943 fans sporting assorted Minnesota Twins hats and other apparel.

On the field, you had a home team with 12 hits, two home runs in the first inning and pitchers that struck out 16 in a nifty little 9-7 win over Beloit. In many ways, you could hit rewind and watch this kind of performance another 139 times this Midwest League season.

"This is what we expect out of ourselves," said Kernels first baseman D.J. Hicks. "We have a lot of guys from (Elizabethton), had a great group of guys there last year. Putting up nine runs, that's going to be hard to do every night. But as long as the pitchers keep us in the game, I think we'll hit all right."

Hicks obliterated a Raul Alcantara pitch well over the signs in right field to punctuate a three-run first inning for the Kernels. After mega-prospect Byron Buxton singled leading off, Jorge Polanco turned on an inside pitch and hit a two-run homer to right.

Polanco had three hits and three RBIs.

"Two home runs in the first inning. Talk about getting the excitement going," Kernels Manager Jake Mauer said.

Cedar Rapids built a 9-4 lead after five innings, but Beloit hung around and actually had the tying run at the plate in the ninth. Reliever Chris Mazza settled down to strike out the final two Snappers to bring his team's game total to a dozen plus four.

Starter Taylor Rogers had seven, winning reliever Tyler Jones six in 3 1/3 hitless innings.

"Anytime you strike out 16, that's obviously a positive," Mauer said. "A little drama at the end, maybe used one more guy (pitcher) than I'd have liked to, but that's kind of the nature of the beast. We got that lead and the boys competed to go on and get that win. Always good to get that first one."

Buxton showed flashes of the ability that got him selected second overall in last year's MLB draft, going 2-for-5 with a stolen base from the leadoff spot.

"There was no pressure," he said. "I just went out and played. Played my game, played like I know how to play."

If you're looking for negatives, there were a couple of errors on C.R.'s middle infielders Polanco and shortstop Niko Goodrum, the latter of which led to four unearned runs in the Beloit third. But this was a nice to dwell on the good stuff, and there was plenty of that.

The teams play again Friday at 6:35.
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