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66ers win South Division Finals09/13/2006 3:06 AM ET
By Tim Leonard / Special to MLB.com
Inland Empire 66ers manager Gary Thurman admitted the thought crossed his mind. He briefly pondered the possibility of playing a decisive fifth game on Wednesday.
The 66ers not only pushed that thought out of their manager's head but pushed the Lake Elsinore Storm out of the playoffs.
Trailing by five runs, Inland Empire batted around in a six-run eighth inning and went on to a 9-5 victory on Tuesday at The Diamond. The triumph gave the 66ers a 3-1 win in the best-of-5 South Division Finals.
Inland Empire will face the winner of the San Jose-Visalia series for the California League championship. The Giants and Oaks play Game 5 of the North Division Finals on Wednesday. The winner hosts the 66ers in Game 1 on Thursday.
"After the seventh, I thought, 'We'll probably be playing tomorrow,'" Thurman said. "You never know. It's a funny game. I never would have thought we would score nine runs in two innings.
"We never gave up. It was pretty much the same throughout the year. The boys played hard for 27 outs. The bats woke up at the right time. We had two big innings to finish it off."
The 66ers sent 11 batters to the plate in the eighth. Brent Johnson and Johan Limonta had RBI doubles, Josh Womack singled in the tying run and Jeffrey Dominguez lined a single to left to score Alex Meneses and give Inland Empire a 6-5 lead.
Limonta and Womack delivered RBI singles in the ninth as Inland Empire scored three insurance runs. A throwing error by shortstop Skip Adams on Womack's single allowed another run to score. The miscue was Adams' second of the inning and one of four he committed in the game.
"We got a couple of knocks in the eighth. The boys had some momentum going up there," Thurman said. "The more runs we scored, the more momentum we got. They saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
"The boys were going crazy. There was a lot of emotion on the bench. It's a great feeling, especially to win and coming back in the game."
The Storm scored in each innings from the fourth to the seventh to build a 5-0 lead. Josh Howard and Yordany Ramirez had run-scoring singles in the fourth for a 2-0 cushion. Chase Headley and Peter Ciofrone added solo homers off Juan Done in the fifth and sixth, respectively, and Adam Bourassa scored on a wild pitch in the seventh for a seemingly insurmountable lead.
Lake Elsinore starter Manny Ayala scattered five hits over seven scoreless innings as the Storm appeared on their way to tying the series and forcing a decisive fifth game. Ayala gave up a pair of singles in the first, but only one other batter reached second base against him.
Ayala retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced, with Luis Valbuena reaching on an error by Adams in the fifth. Ayala's effort was wasted by the bullpen, which could not keep the 66ers from storming back.
Inland Empire totaled 14 hits, nine of which came in the final two innings.
"They've had a great pitching staff all year. The bullpen has been absolutely awesome all year," Thurman said. "They helped us out with a couple of errors to extend innings."
Justin Jordan started for Inland Empire and gave up two runs on three hits in four innings. Jon Lockwood allowed a run in the seventh and Jose De La Cruz came in for a two-inning save.
Neil Jamison surrendered four runs -- one earned -- on four hits and a walk. He was one of four pitchers the Storm used in the eighth.
"They know that we can come back in games," Thurman said. "They've been one of the best pitching staffs all year and we can score nine runs in two innings. They have the feeling right now that they're pretty invincible."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.