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09/17/2006 1:48 AM ET
Houser, Oaks blank 66ers
Four-hitter leaves Visalia one win from Cal League title
James Houser Jr. is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts against Inland Empire this year. (Tom Clifton/MLB.com)

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James Houser Jr. combined with two relievers on a four-hitter as the Visalia Oaks edged the Inland Empire 66ers, 1-0, on Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in the California League Finals.

Houser (2-1), who shared the league lead with 12 wins during the season, did not allow a hit until Brent Johnson led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a double.

The 21-year-old left-hander allowed two more hits during his six-inning stint and struck out four without issuing a walk. In three playoff starts, he has 14 strikeouts and no walks over 16 innings.

Evan Meek fanned three in two perfect frames before Nick DeBarr worked in and out of trouble in the ninth. Johnson led off with a single and Reed Eastley walked to put the potential tying run at second base with nobody out.

Cleanup hitter Johan Limonta failed to get down a sacrifice before bouncing into a double play that left Johnson at third base. DeBarr retired Omar Falcon on a fly ball to center field, securing his third postseason save and leaving Visalia one win away from its first California League championship in 28 years.

The Oaks' trio outpitched Cibney Bello (0-1), who allowed one run on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts in seven innings.

Visalia scored the game's only run in the fifth. Patrick Cottrell hit a leadoff single, took second on a one-out base hit by Hunter Vick and came home on Neil Walton's single to left field.

Walton spent the regular season with Southwest Michigan of the Midwest League, where he hit .190 with two homers and 29 RBIs in 128 games. The 22-year-old shortstop is 2-for-8 in the California League playoffs.

Bello walked Fernando Perez to load the bases, but got Shaun Cumberland and Chris Nowak to hit into forceouts to limit the damage.

Nowak and John Jaso each had a pair of hits for the Oaks, who can end the best-of-5 series with a win on Sunday at 9:11 p.m. ET.

Daren Smith is a staff writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.