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RAILCATS KEEP BATS ALIVE AT RIVERSIDE PARK

Thursday, May 10, 2012 • POSTED BY:  Hillary Smith - Times Correspondent

HAMMOND | Mike Coles return to Riverside Park was as warm as if he'd never left.

Coles' name is emblazoned in the left field where he spent most of Thursday's game as a RailCat.

He reminded fans why his name was out there, with a second-inning single and the first run of the game, won 10-1 by the RailCats over the Windy City ThunderBolts.

"It was all comfortable," Coles said. "Playing here, playing for the RailCats, playing for Windy City, it was like my whole career wrapped up into one."

The game was the first exhibition game outside of U.S. Steel Yard since the RailCats' 2002 all-travel season. It came complete with raffles, a commemorative T-shirt and about 150 fans at first pitch.

The RailCats didn't disappoint, with a 5-0 lead through the first four innings, before the sun set and chilly fans left for home.

"It was fun," manager Greg Tagert said. "We did all of our preparation at the stadium, with batting practice. But in all, I think it went really well."

Starting pitcher Andrew Johnston is in the midst of a conversion to a spot in the rotation. He was a reliever for seven minor league seasons, reaching as high as Triple-A Colorado Springs.

Johnston allowed one hit and struck out two in three innings, pitching to 10 batters.

"This is his first start as a professional at any level and really his first start since his freshman year at Missouri," Tagert said. "When you do something different, you see a little different energy level. I think that's what you saw out of a lot of people tonight."

Rico Washington went 2-for-4, scored twice and drove in two runs in the fourth inning. Jason James added a pair of RBIs in the sixth inning, and Kyle Haines was 3-for-4, reaching base four times.

The game went 9 1/2 innings, with the RailCats scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, despite their lead. In independent exhibition baseball, pitcher's innings matter more than a final score.