In a game that's immediately being billed as one of the best ever played in the California League, it took an unlikely series of events for Inland Empire to escape with a win.
The 66ers overcame a two-run deficit entering the eighth inning. They survived bases-loaded, no-out situations in the 13th and 14th. And in the 15th, they got an RBI double from Abel Baker to take their first lead since the second.
So, after 5 1/2 hours of twists and turns, Inland Empire outlasted defending Cal League champion Lancaster, 4-3, in the decisive fifth game of the South Division Finals.
Baker was one of the heroes, capping a five-hit night with his 15th-inning double. He batted .409 (9-for-22) in the five-game series.
"Oh, man, that was awesome," the 22-year-old catcher said. "It was a long game and I just did all I could to get that run in, was kind of ready for the game to be over. The guys we have on this team, we're all one unit. And the feeling doesn't get much better than this."
Baker scored on Sherman Johnson's sacrifice fly in the eighth to get the 66ers within 3-2, but they were still facing long odds against a JetHawks team that was 74-3 when leading after eight during the regular season.
In the ninth, Cal League MVP Zach Borenstein knocked a one-out single, stole second and scored the tying run on a base hit by Brian Hernandez.
Inland Empire had to navigate a 13th inning that started with a double by Andrew Aplin. Brandon Meredith singled and Tyler Heineman was intentionally walked to load the bases. Reliever Ty Kelley struck out Chris Epps and escaped when Joe Sclafani hit into a double play.
The situation repeated itself in the 14th, when Astros No. 7 prospect Delino DeShields and Carlos Pedromo hit back-to-back singles. DeShields stole third and Kelley issued another intentional walk to load the bases.
This time, he got M.P. Cokinos to pop out in foul territory past third. DeShields broke for home, but Johnson fired to Baker to complete another double play. Kelley then fanned Aplin to give Inland Empire yet another life.
"I tell you what, that was truly one of the most amazing games I've ever been a part of," 66ers manager Bill Haselman said. "We had the bases loaded twice when we were on defense and these guys just battled through it. To be able to come out on top, with the situations that they had to score off us, to hold them, it just really speaks volumes about the makeup of these players."
Inland Empire starter Kramer Sneed allowed three runs -- two earned -- on five hits and three walks with three strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings. Kelley (1-1) picked up the win with his two harrowing innings and Dan Reynolds, a member of the rotation all season, allowed a hit and a walk while fanning one in the 15th to record his first save since the 2011 season.
Eric Stamets, Alex Yarbrough, Andy Workman and Hernandez each contributed three hits for the 66ers, who host North Division champion San Jose in Game 1 of the Finals on Thursday.
In other playoff action:
San Jose 9, Visalia 5
The Giants reached the Championship Series for the fifth time in nine years behind an offense that struck for six extra-base hits and scored six runs in the first three innings.
Ricky Oropesa homered for the fourth straight game in the opening inning to put San Jose on the board. Devin Harris went 3-for-5 with a solo shot, while Myles Schroder doubled twice and Matt Duffy plated a pair of runs.
Kelvin Marte snuffed out any hope of a comeback by limiting the Rawhide to one run on four hits over 4 1/3 innings out of the bullpen. Box score».
Jonathan Raymond is a contributor to MiLB.com.