LAKE ELSINORE — The Lake Elsinore Storm beat the Inland Empire 66ers 10-8 on a wild night at the Diamond to earn a spot in the California League Championship series starting Sunday at the Diamond at 1:00 PM.
But first, there was a little drama.
The Storm put up five runs in the the seventh inning, highlighted by a bases-clearing double off the right field wall by Nerwilian Cedeno to go ahead 9-2 and seemingly put the game in the bag.
But Storm right-hander Jairo Iriarte opened the eighth with a walk, back-to-back singles, and another walk to plate a run. Manager Eric Junge went to Aaron Holiday, who walked two of the first three batters he faced to close the gap to 9-5.
The righty bounced back with a strikeout and quickly got ahead of Arol Vera 0-2 on a pair of swinging strikes, but the 66ers shortstop fouled off three pitches before tripling to clear the bases and bring the 66ers to within one run.
“That took a few years off of my life,” laughed Junge afterward. “I would much rather be pitching than managing in that situation, but they pulled it off.
“Sometimes you can’t throw a strike, and you hope the guy behind you can throw a strike, and in that inning, we had to throw out a parade of relievers until we found one.”
Junge did find one in 5-foot-8 right-hander Manuel Castro, who came in with the tying run on third and got the strikeout.
The Storm got a run back in the bottom half of the inning when Griffin Doersching led off with a single. Kai Murphy, replaced the big man on the base paths and advanced to second on a sacrifice. With two outs, Jackson Merrill battled back from an 0-2 count, fouling off six and taking a pair before hitting a line drive single up the middle on the eleventh pitch to plate Murphy.
Castro returned to get the last three outs, with a pair of punch outs and weak fly ball to Merrill at shortstop for the final out.
“He was huge,” said Junge. “He attacks, is aggressive and throws his fastball for strikes. He came up big for us with those last four outs.”
There were several offensive stars for the Storm on the night, but two stood out.
Marcos Castañon had a big night, bouncing back from a rough first game of the series with a three-run home run to right-center in the third inning. “I think the opponents know that they have to be careful with him – he led the league in home runs this year – and he’s at his best when he is going opposite field,” said Junge. The third baseman, who hit 23 home runs and finished the regular season with a .261/.397/.485 slash line, had a pair of hits and four RBI on the night.
In addition to Merrill’s impressive at-bat in the eighth inning, he added an RBI double, a stolen base, walked, and turned a slick double play in the fourth inning. “The kid is locked in right now; he’s been that way ever since he came back – both at the plate and in the field,” said Junge.
Duncan Snider, 24, got the start, and the 6-foot-7 right-hander who signed out of the American Association in early July was impressive once again. The 24-year-old allowed only one run over 4.2 inning. Though he gave up six hits and three walks, he limited the damage by recording seven strikeouts. He has been one of the better finds for an organization that has been increasingly active in searching affiliate leagues for players. The Iowa native posted a 6-1 record with a 4.31 ERA in 48 innings with 57 strikeouts and 12 walks.