Culp, Storm take full advantage in Cal League

Lake Elsinore tops Inland Empire to lock up second seed for playoffs

(Mike Janes/

September 3, 2007 7:22 PM ET

Simply reaching the postseason apparently wasn't enough for Lake Elsinore.

Five days after pitching his team into the playoffs, Nathan Culp (5-4) tossed five solid innings as the Storm defeated visiting Inland Empire, 7-2, on Monday to secure the No. 2 seed in the California League postseason.

Culp allowed two runs on five hits and one walk with three strikeouts in five frames. The 22-year-old left-hander struck out a career-high eight while allowing one unearned run through seven innings in Friday's postseason-clinching 7-1 victory over Visalia.

Before the two clutch performances, the Padres' fourth-round selection in the 2006 draft had lost four of his previous six starts and hadn't won since July 20.

Had the Storm (37-32) lost their matchup with the 66ers (33-36) on Monday, they would have needed to play a second game for rights to the No. 2 seed, which determines home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Now, Lake Elsinore will face off against the 66ers at Inland Empire on Wednesday before returning to the Diamond on Thursday and, if necessary, Friday. The Storm is 22-12 at home and 15-20 away.

Lake Elsinore reliever Ernesto Frieri gave up a hit and a walk while striking out three in two scoreless innings for his first save.

Jose Lobaton lined a go-ahead RBI single and scored on Mike Baxter's sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. The 22-year-old catcher added an RBI single in the sixth. Kyle Blanks cranked a game-tying two-run homer in the fourth, his 24th, and David Freese drove in two runs.

66ers starter Mario Alvarez (7-10) yielded five runs on six hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.

Russell Mitchell smacked a two-run blast, his 22nd, in the first for Inland Empire.

Ryan McConnell is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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