The heart of Rancho Cucamonga this season has been what manager Bill Haselman calls the "nucleus," players who've been around all season. On Saturday, the Quakes turned to one of its members to help them become champions.
Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers' ninth-ranked prospect, doubled twice and hit a two-run homer as Rancho Cucamonga completed a three-game sweep of San Jose and captured its first California League championship since 1994 with a 5-0 win.
The Quakes started slowly in the clincher. San Jose had been 4-0 in elimination games during the playoffs and got four perfect innings from starter Christian Jones, who struck out seven of his first 12 batters. The Giants also put a runner on third base three times against Rancho Cucamonga right-hander Trevor Oaks.
"We didn't think of any 'elimination game' stuff, but we did know how good a team they were," Haselman said. "We knew they had a lot of good pitchers in that bullpen. [Jones], he did a heck of a job coming out. He was striking out our guys left and right."
The Quakes needed an offensive jolt, and Bellinger -- who spent all of his third Minor League season with the team -- was happy to deliver. Leading off the fifth against Jones (0-1), the 20-year-old first baseman worked the count full after falling behind 0-2, then smashed a double to the right-center field gap to become Rancho Cucamonga's first baserunner. Dodgers No. 7 prospect Alex Verdugo smacked another double three pitches later to plate Bellinger.
The tide seemed to turn as Jones walked Tyler Ogle on four pitches and was yanked one batter later in favor of Dan Slania.
"I think scoring first was really big for us, especially as well as that guy was pitching," Haselman said. "I think it maybe took a little bit out of them. They were getting some hits early on, but they couldn't get any runs across and we were getting shut down, then when we had a chance and we took advantage of it."
Bellinger doubled again in the sixth and scored on Verdugo's before drilling a two-run shot in the eighth off reliever Ian Gardeck.
The 2013 fourth-round pick and the 19-year-old Verdugo almost single-handedly carried the offense. The two combined to go 6-for-9 with four extra-base hits and four RBIs, while the rest of the Rancho Cucamonga lineup went 1-for-26. During the playoffs, the Bellinger and Verdugo hit .324 and .323, respectively.
"Bellinger, he's been doing that for us all year. And Verdugo, he came up after the second half and he's contributed big-time to us as well," Haselman said.
Buoyed by the offensive support, Oaks (1-0) settled in and tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings, scattering eight hits and fanning four without issuing a walk.
"He did a great job," Haselman said. "He came out throwing strikes. He had good movement on his fastball, and his slider early on was really good as well. He had really good arm action on it. I think he was really ready for it. He was out there competing his rear off."
In the late hours Saturday, long after reliever Michael Johnson blew strike three past San Jose's Ty Ross to start a celebration in the infield, Haselman turned his praise to the "nucleus."
The group -- which includes Bellinger, shortstop Dillon Moyer, third baseman Paul Hoenecke, catcher Tyler Ogle, outfielder Joey Curletta and relievers Johnson and A.J. Vanegas -- had been instrumental in stabilizing a roster in constant flux.
"They're just great teammates to each other, and with all the changes that we had, everybody that came in," the skipper said. "Those guys were able to fit right in and adapt to what those guys did. My hat's off to that group of guys. Just a great team and great young men to be around."