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Cal League finalists focused on fundamentals09/11/2008 9:09 AM ET
By Alan Friedman / Special to MLB.com
Don't expect anything too fancy when the Stockton Ports host the Lancaster JetHawks in Thursday's opener of the best-of-5 California League Championship Series.
"We just want to play fundamental baseball," said Stockton manager Darren Bush. "We just want to show up and play hard, the way we've been playing."
The Ports, in the finals for the first time since 2003 when they were swept by Inland Empire, are looking for their first title since 2002, when they topped Lake Elsinore in four games. They got to the title round this year the hard way, ousting defending champion San Jose in five games, winning the clincher, 9-4, on Wednesday.
Stockton is looking for its 11th California League crown, and Bush expects a tight series.
"They're a good team," Bush said of the opposition. "We've played them and had close games. They have a knack for getting big hits and we know that, so we have to limit them."
Stockton catcher Josh Donaldson has blossomed during the playoffs, batting a hot .433 in eight playoff games.
"I feel like we have one of the best lineups in the league," Donaldson said. "I don't really feel like there's a weakness. We have good pitching, too."
The JetHawks, who haven't won a title since joining the league in 1996, reached the finals after ousting Lake Elsinore in five games, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to take the last two. They clinched by outlasting the Storm, 10-8, on Wednesday.
"Well, here it is," said JetHawks manager Chad Epperson. "We've played 145 games and now it comes down to the next five. I like the way we're playing. We've done a much better job the past few games taking care of the baseball. "We've made some adjustments, and here we are," he added.
Lancaster's playoff victory over Lake Elsinore was a turnabout of sorts. In last year's playoff, the JetHawks were ousted by the Storm in four games in the second round.
Lancaster JetHawks (40-30) vs. Stockton Ports (34-36)
Lancaster, which joined the California League in 1996 and has yet to win a title, last made it to the finals in 2004, losing to the Modesto Nuts in five games. Stockton is in the title round for the third time since 2002, when the Ports last took the crown, beating Lake Elsinore in four games.
Lancaster had a 6-5 edge in the season series, going 5-2 at home and 1-3 on the road, but Stockton won the last three games between the two teams in late August.
Lancaster Daniel Nava batted .400 (8-for-20) with a homer and three RBIs in six games, while fellow outfielder Ryan Kalish had a homer and four RBIs in four games. On the mound, southpaw Derrick Loop was 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two starts, while RHP Chris Province was 1-0 with a 5.00 ERA, also in two starts. For Stockton, OF Chris Carter smacked four homers and drove in five runs, while OF Jermaine Mitchell hit .324 (12-for-37) in 10 games. On the mound, righty reliever Sam Demel was 1-0 with one save, and RHP Scott Mitchinson went 1-0 in one start, pitching six scoreless innings of one-hit ball.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lancaster: Nava led the California League with a .341 average, while 2B Kris Negron hit .328. Meanwhile, 1B Michael Jones was hot in the Lake Elsinore series, going 3-for-4 with a homers and three RBIs in Game 1. RHP Blake Maxwell, who was 5-9 with a 3.32 ERA during the regular season, picked up a playoff win against Lake Elsinore.
Stockton: The California League's Rookie of the Year, Chris Carter hit 39 homers and drove in 104 runs to lead the circuit in both departments. C Josh Donaldson, who batted .330 during the regular season, hit one homer in the Modesto series and went deep twice in the San Jose series. LHP James Heuser, 9-3 with a 4.53 during the regular season, picked up a playoff win against San Jose.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.