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Storm Chasers roll to first PCL crown

Montgomery tosses five shutout innings, Zawadzki plates three
September 17, 2011
Playing tight doesn't lead to titles. That was the attitude in the Omaha clubhouse.

"We were in the playoffs and we were just like, 'Hey, let's win this thing,'" left-hander Mike Montgomery said. "That helped us, just being loose, not treating it like it was anything special."

The Royals' No. 3 prospect tossed five scoreless innings as the Storm Chasers swept away the Sacramento River Cats, 11-6, to win their first Pacific Coast League championship.

Omaha outscored Sacramento, 29-12, in the three-game series en route to its first title of any kind since capturing the crown in the American Association in 1990. The Storm Chasers joined the PCL in 1998.

"We knew it was important to not let them think that they could get back into this series," said manager Mike Jirschele, who led Omaha for 11 seasons over two stints without advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs. "This is a great achievement. The players we have lost over the course of the year -- it was amazing that we were even in these final games with the guys we have lost."

In fact, the club ended the year without many of the top prospects who've found their way to the Major Leagues. Four of the nine players in Kansas City's starting lineup Friday -- Eric Hosmer (26 games), Mike Moustakas (55), Johnny Giavotella (110) and Salvador Perez (12) -- suited up for the Storm Chasers before their promotions.

The PCL champs will take on Columbus in the Triple-A National Championship Game on Tuesday night in Albuquerque, N.M. The Clippers secured the International League's Governors' Cup earlier Friday.

"We'll just go in and do our best," said Jirschele, who celebrated his 1,000th career win earlier this season. "To me, this was No. 1, winning the league."

For all the scoring, pitching also helped the Storm Chasers finish on top. Montgomery (1-0) allowed six baserunners on three hits and three walks. The 22-year-old lefty, throwing what he called his best curveball of the season, struck out six.

"My mind-set was to just attack," said Montgomery, who threw 94 pitches. "I have had some struggles this year, but I knew none of that mattered."

The 2008 first-round pick labored in Omaha's semifinal loss -- its lone defeat of the postseason -- to Round Rock on Sept. 9. He lasted three innings and yielded five runs on six hits and four walks.

"That was a great stepping stone for him," Jirschele said. "Here we are with a chance to win the PCL championship and the pressure was on him, and he stood up and did a great job. That is exactly what you expect to see from a top prospect."

"It's huge, a good way to finish the year for me," added Montgomery, who had a 5.32 ERA in 28 Triple-A outings this season. "I feel like this is the right end."

Montgomery had not held a Triple-A opponent scoreless for so long since limiting Albuquerque to two hits over 6 2/3 innings on July 1.

His lineup provided early support with two runs in the second and four more in the fifth against River Cats starter Travis Banwart (0-1), who lasted 4 2/3 frames.

"Those guys are able to take a lot of pressure [off] me," Montgomery said. "They were doing it the whole playoffs."

Lance Zawadzki went 4-for-5 and collected three RBIs out of the No. 8 spot in the lineup. Four teammates recorded two hits apiece, including David Lough, who slugged a two-run homer in the sixth.

The River Cats were quieter with the bats, though the A's No. 3 prospect, Chris Carter, cranked a leadoff shot in the ninth.

Sacramento, which won the Pacific South Division by 17 games -- the widest margin since the league switched to four divisions in 1998 -- has lost in the Finals twice in the past three years.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to