LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. — The Lake Elsinore Storm had a chance to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in the Cal League Championship Series. However, despite some excellent pitching, Lake Elsinore fell 2-1 to the Visalia Rawhide in the best-of-five series that now shifts to Visalia for the duration.
Reiss Knehr set the tone early for the Storm, showing a fastball that sat in the mid-90s and even touched 98 mph. He retired the side in order, including a strikeout of Visalia lead-off hitter Geraldo Perdomo.
The Storm had an opportunity to take a first inning lead after back-to-back one-out singles by Jeisson Rosario and Luis Campusano. Clean-up hitter Gabriel Arias worked a 3-0 count but swung at a fastball and flew out to center. Eguy Rosario grounded out harmlessly to second to end the threat.
Knehr ran into some trouble in the third, when Perdomo and Alek Thomas — both left-handed hitters — stroked singles the other way to begin the inning. Opposite-handed opponents hit .323 against Knehr in the regular season, nearly 100 points better than righties.
After retiring the next two batters, Lake Elsinore intentionally walked Yoel Yanqui to load the bases. However, Knehr — whose control got away from him at times in his first full professional season — was unable to locate his fastball and walked in the game’s first run. Knehr got a groundball out to limit the damage.
The Storm came right back with an equalizer in the bottom of the frame. Xavier Edwards led off with a single and came around when Jeisson Rosario lined a fastball deep to center field that sliced away from Thomas for a double. It was part of a two-hit night for Rosario, who also later drew a walk.
“[Getting on-base] has been a big part of what I have been able to do all season, not just the playoffs,” said the Storm centerfielder through an interpreter. “Part of what I try to do is to help my team and get on-base. That’s all I try to do in every single at-bat.”
Knehr kept Visalia off of the board in the fourth inning, notching a strikeout and pair of ground outs, but the 22-year-old ran into some trouble in the fifth inning.
After retiring the first two batters, Knehr allowed a triple that rolled to the right-center wall. Yanqui followed with a ball into the five-point-five hole that Storm shortstop Arias made a great effort to field, but his long throw was errant, allowing Yanqui to reach safely.
The hit knocked Knehr, who ultimately took the loss despite showing flashes of dominance, out of the game. His fastball/slider combo led to five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He threw 98 pitches before being lifted.
The Storm had the leadoff batters on in the fourth and the fifth innings, but were unable to get the big hit. The club’s best opportunity to tie the game came in the eighth inning when Arias drew a one-out walk and outfielder Tirso Ornelas stroked a line-drive the opposite way one out later to move Rosario to third. Olivier Basabe popped up to second to end the threat.
The hit extended Ornelas’ hitting streak to all six playoff games, a stretch in which he’s struck out just one time in 24 trips to the plate. The turn-around since his stint in the AZL has been impressive.
“It’s a great feeling to be in the finals,” said Ornelas through an interpreter. “To have the trust of your teammates and your manager and to be out there every single day and have their support.”
The Storm will head to Visalia needing to win two-of-three to capture their first Cal League championship since 2011. The vibe of the clubhouse seemed confident.
“The team is doing what we have to do right now,” said Rosario. “We are playing our best, we have the support of our coaching staff — everyone is behind us. If [winning the Cal League Championship] is for us, then we will win it.”