This time there was no suspense, no end-of-game drama and no doubt. The Lake Elsinore Storm are moving on to the California League South Division Championship Series.
Lake Elsinore scored in five consecutive innings Friday on the way to an 8-2 victory over the Inland Empire 66ers in the decisive third game of their division semifinal series.
The Storm travel to Lancaster to play the JetHawks on Saturday in Game 1 of the best-of-5 division championship.
"We knew we were at home and even now. It wasn't our backs against the wall. We were both in the same situation," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "They know it's not over until it's over and we know we play well at home. It's our place. They played hard and we came out on top."
Storm starter Steve Garrison (1-0) gave up five hits over seven scoreless innings, striking out eight without walking a batter. Michael DeMark and Brandon Higelin each pitched a shaky inning, but Lezcano was pleased he didn't need his bullpen to do any heavy lifting after the previous two games.
"He was outstanding," he said of Garrison. "The key was keeping the ball down in the zone. His change and slider, everything was down. He pitched seven solid innings. He could have gone eight."
Inland Empire won the opener in 14 innings, 4-3, but Lake Elsinore staved off elimination with a 10-7 victory on Thursday, setting up the deciding contest.
Those two games left the Storm's bullpen in tatters. Lake Elsinore relievers pitched seven innings in Game 2 after going 6 2/3 frames in the opener. The Storm needed innings out of Garrison as much to have a chance to advance as to give their overworked bullpen a breather before the next round.
The Storm's bats helped take care of that. Lake Elsinore scored single runs in the second, third and fourth to grab a 3-0 lead. Jose Lobaton had an RBI single in the second, the only one of the eight runs that didn't come with two outs.
Seth Johnston had a two-out run-scoring single in the third and Sean Kazmar's two-out double in the fourth plated another run.
The 66ers' bullpen wasn't able to hold off the Storm. Lake Elsinore got to starter Cody White (0-1) for three runs in four innings, then tacked on five against Jesus Rodriguez and Marlon Arias.
The Storm broke the game open with a three-run fifth. Juan Ciriaco, who went 2-for-4 and batted .538 in the series, delivered a two-out RBI single and Josh Alley stroked a two-run double. Ciriaco padded the lead with another two-run double in the sixth.
Mike Baxter led an 11-hit attack, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored. Alley chipped in two hits.
Inland Empire also totaled 11 hits, with Shane Justis and Jaime Pedroza collecting three apiece and Adam Godwin going 2-for-5 with an RBI.
"That was nice to see, our two-out hitting. When you get RBIs with two outs, that's huge," Lezcano noted. "What we lacked the first game, we had plenty of tonight."
Lake Elsinore also had plenty of success facing Lancaster during the regular season. According to Lezcano, the Storm went 9-1 in the final 10 meetings. But he's hardly ready to claim an early victory in the upcoming series.
"We played them pretty well. Last 10 games, we beat them nine. That doesn't mean anything in playoffs," Lezcano said. "Make sure you include that I said that doesn't mean anything in the playoffs. I don't want them using anything I said as motivation."