In Tuesday's battle for the final California League playoff berth, neither team wanted to give an inch. It didn't matter that Rancho Cucamonga was 2-10 this year on Inland Empire's turf or that Christian Lara was hitting .244 with the 66ers coming into the game.
When push came to shove, Lara collected five straight hits late in the game to lead Inland Empire to a 7-6, 13-inning victory and into the postseason.
It seemed Lara might have produced enough earlier in the game to get the job done. He doubled to lead off the sixth, then provided some insurance with a two-RBI triple an inning later. He singled again in the ninth and 11th.
Bridger Hunt walked to start off the 13th. Lara followed with a single to right and A.J. Ford intentionally walked the dangerous Tommy Giles to load the bases. With Andrew Locke at the plate, A.J. Ford uncorked a wild pitch to backup catcher C.J. Bressoud, and Hunt scored the game-winner.
The tension might have gotten to some with the game knotted deep into the battle, but 66ers manager John Valentin knew his club had been the best in the California League in late innings throughout the season. They had scored 92 runs in the sixth inning, 71 in the seventh, 91 in the eighth and 86 in the ninth.
But they didn't count on Rancho Cucamonga striking back in the ninth. With the Quakes trailing, 6-3, Peter Bourjos singled in Anthony Norman, P.J. Phillips crossed the plate when Efren Navarro was issued a bases-loaded walk, and Drew Toussaint, who went 4-for-7, singled in the game-tying run.
Then emotions started to boil over. Larry Infante argued the called third strike that ended the Quakes' ninth and he, manager Ever Magallanes and batting coach Francisco Matos all wound up being ejected. That left pitching coach Dan Ricabal in charge with Hank Conger, who had just been pulled for a pinch-runner, as first-base coach.
Both teams put runners on base in every extra frame except Rancho Cucamonga's 12th, in which Matthew Sartor (4-3) struck out the side. He ended up scattering five hits without any walks and fanning six in four innings to earn the win.
Inland Empire moves on to face the Lake Elsinore Storm in a best-of-3 semifinal series that starts Wednesday.