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River Cats slug their way to series lead
09/13/2008 1:01 AM ET
The Sacramento River Cats moved into a familiar position Friday night, one in which they've never lost.

Wes Bankston and Brooks Conrad homered to help Sacramento to a 8-5 win over the Oklahoma RedHawks in Game 3 of the Pacific Coast League Championship Series at Raley Field.

A win on Saturday can secure the second straight PCL crown for the River Cats. Sacramento is 9-0 all-time in championship-clinching games.

"This was a pretty big game and it was a good game," said Sacramento manager Todd Steverson. "It was big for our club."

Bankston's three-run shot put the Cats ahead in the first inning and Conrad's solo blast in the fourth gave them a 5-4 lead.

Casey Rogowski scored on a wild pitch in the seventh and Justin Knoedler hit his second sacrifice fly of the game as Sacramento took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 series.

"We've got some inclement weather on the way, so we knew we'd play tonight, and it was huge to get the job done," Steverson said.

Chris Denorfia went 3-for-5 with an RBI for the River Cats, who can return to the Bricktown Showdown and a matchup with the International League champion Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

Jared Lansford (1-0) held the RedHawks to one hit over 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to pick up the win. Bret Prinz escaped a second-and-third jam in the ninth to record his first postseason save.

Sacramento starter Vincent Mazzaro allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits and four walks over 4 1/3 innings.

Steverson said the offensive support was huge in a game in which his starter did not survive the fifth.

"It's got to be there. This is a hitter's ballpark and our guys swung the bat," he said. "It basically gave a lot of our pitchers a little cushion. I'd like to see our starter go a little deeper, but our bullpen is a doing a great job."

Brad Knox will get the ball in Game 4, weather-permitting. The veteran right-hander picked up the win in last year's title-clinching game.

"They're pretty hyped-up, they're excited," Steverson said of his players. "The atmosphere of the playoffs in general gets you up, and they've done a good job keeping a good head about themselves."

Max Ramirez fell a triple shy of the cycle and drove in a run for Oklahoma. Casey Benjamin tripled and contributed a pair of RBIs.

RedHawks starter Tommy Hunter (1-1) allowed six runs on nine hits and a pair of walks over five innings. The 22-year-old right-hander, who made three Major League starts this season, threw 92 pitches and hit a batter.

Game 4 has been moved up to a noon CT start in an effort to avoid inclement weather.

"Hopefully, we can get the game in, we don't know right now," Steverson said. "We're just ready to go."

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