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Inland Empire strikes back for Cal title

Limonta plays hero again, smacking RBI double to best Visalia in Game 5
September 19, 2006
Johan Limonta's eighth-inning double scored the go-ahead run as Inland Empire beat visiting Visalia, 2-1, on Monday to win the California League championship.

With the score tied, 1-1, Limonta played hero for the 66ers for the second night in a row when his two-out double off Richard De Los Santos scored Reed Eastley from first base. The 23-year-old designated hitter also slugged a three-run homer in Game 4 on Sunday to force the decisive finale.

"From the first time [Limonta] swung a bat for us, I knew he'd be a big help," 66ers manager Gary Thurman said. "He homered for us in his first at-bat, so I knew he'd fit right in our lineup."

Inland Empire scored its first run in the fifth when Josh Womack ripped a line drive into right field that rattled around long enough for him to round the bases for an inside-the-park home run.

Four 66ers pitchers combined on a five-hitter, beginning with Mumba Rivera, who gave up two hits and a walk while striking out four over four scoreless frames.

After Ivan Blanco yielded a run on a hit and two walks over two innings, Jon Lockwood (2-0) tossed two perfect frames for the win. Jose De La Cruz allowed two hits in a scoreless ninth, striking out the last batter to nab his second postseason save and secure the championship.

"Pitching has really been our strength this year," Thurman said. "These guys come out each day to work hard. They have a good attitude. They are aggressive in the zone and throw a lot of first-pitch strikes, and that's what you want in your staff."

The Oaks tied it in the sixth on John Jaso's sacrifice fly. Later in the inning, with runners on second and third and one out, they had a chance to take the lead, but Josh Arhart fouled out and center fielder Brent Johnson made a diving catch in shallow center to rob Josh Asanovich of a potential go-ahead hit.

"[The catch] was obviously a big play," said Johnson, who was named Championship Series MVP after hitting .429 with six RBIs. "I had a good read on it, and it had a lot of backspin too. I knew I had to lay out for it, but I'm glad I was able to run it down. That definitely was the turning point.

"Just after yesterday's game, I talked with some of my teammates and we knew we could pull this out because last year a lot of us were [with Wisconsin] in the Midwest League and we were down 0-2 and came back to force a Game 5, so there was little doubt we could pull this off."

Visalia starter Derek Feldkamp surrendered one run on six hits and a walk while striking out one in 5 1/3 innings. He left with runners on first and second in the sixth, but De Los Santos fanned two straight batters to end the threat.

De Los Santos (0-1) gave up a run on three hits while fanning two in 2 2/3 innings.

Michael Echan is a contributor to