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Culp puts Storm on the brink
09/15/2007 3:24 AM ET
Even as the Storm rack up wins, the mentality in the Lake Elsinore clubhouse remains the same. They refuse to allow success to impact how they play, which is why they're one win from capturing a title.

Nathan Culp pitched seven strong innings and Craig Cooper drove in two runs Friday as the Storm held off the San Jose Giants, 3-2, in Game 2 of the California League Championship Series.

"Everyone is just fired up," Culp said. "We're getting close to being able to win a championship. We'd like to win it as quick as we can. We're playing every game like our last game. Everybody's confident."

There's good reason for that. The Storm's second straight one-run win gave them a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series. Game 3 is Saturday night in San Jose.

"We can't go there with the mentality that we have three chances to win one because all of a sudden it's 2-2," Storm manager Carlos Lezcano said. "We have to play the next game with urgency."

After surrendering a run in the first inning, Culp allowed only two baserunners to reach third base. He got some help in the sixth, when Cooper threw out Travis Denker trying to score from second on Mark Minicozzi's single.

"The sacrifice flies and the play that [Cooper] made in right field, those are the turning points of the game," Culp said.

Culp (1-0) also was a significant factor. The left-hander yielded one run on six hits and a walk with three strikeouts. Things got a little nerve-wracking in the eighth, when Ernesto Frieri sandwiched a pair of walks around a strikeout. But he struck out the next two batters to escape the jam.

Closer R.J. Rodriguez struggled through the ninth but got a huge double play after an error by second baseman Juan Ciriaco put runners on first and second. Pablo Sandoval singled home Minicozzi before Rodriguez walked Michael Mooney to move the tying run to second. But he slammed the door by getting Brian Bocock to fly out to center field.

David Freese doubled in a run in the fourth to lift Lake Elsinore into a 1-1 tie. He took third on the throw home and scored on Cooper's sacrifice fly.

Cooper lifted another sacrifice fly in the sixth plated Josh Alley with the decisive run.

"An RBI is an RBI; he got two of them," Lezcano said. "He got the job done. That was good situational hitting."

San Jose starter Adam Cowart (1-1) gave up all three runs on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out seven without walking a batter after tossing eight shutout frames in his playoff debut on Sunday.

Ronnie Ray finished up with 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

Alley and Sean Kazmar each had two hits and a run scored. Ciriaco also had two hits but committed two errors.

San Jose got on the board first, touching Culp for a run in the first. Denker ripped a two-out double and scored on Minicozzi's base hit.

Minicozzi had half of San Jose's eight hits, going 4-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Denker was 2-for-3 with two doubles and is batting .524 (11-for-21) with three homers and seven RBIs in six postseason games.

Lake Elsinore has had four pitchers make two starts apiece in the postseason and three of them have ERAs below 3.00. Steve Garrison's 3.27 is the highest of the group. Stephen Faris, whose playoff ERA is 2.13, gets the ball for Game 3.

"We're not done yet," Lezcano said. "We still have to win one game, we still have to go out and play hard."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.