Chasers Take Game 1 of Championship Series

Chasers Take Game 1 of Championship Series
Omaha pitching holds River Cats attack to three hits in series opener

Mike Feigen / Omaha Storm Chasers

OMAHA, Neb. — Storm Chasers left-fielder David Lough scampered around third and crossed the plate uncontested, scoring the most improbable of go-ahead runs in the Chasers’ 3-2 victory over Sacramento Tuesday night. The win gave Omaha a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five Pacific Coast League Championship Series, the second-straight series in which they have grabbed a Game 1 victory.

The decisive bottom of the seventh inning began innocently enough, as Kurt Mertins and Jarrod Dyson were retired to start the frame with the Chasers and River Cats tied 2-2. Lough then lashed a hard grounder toward the right-field corner, but as he charged toward second he tumbled and fell to the ground, finding himself on his hands and knees on the infield dirt. Somehow he managed to return safely to first ahead of the throw, keeping the inning alive.

Lorenzo Cain then stepped into the box, already 2-for-3 on the day to raise his batting average to .500 (11-for-22) for the postseason. Cain took a big cut at the first offering from Vinnie Chulk (0-1), popping it high in the air toward shallow right field. Grant Green raced in from his position in deep right-center while second baseman Wes Timmons turned and ran toward the line, but neither player found himself in position and the ball kicked off Timmons’ glove and rolled away. Lough sprinted home all the way from first on the Cain single, giving Omaha the lead for good.

By scoring in the seventh, Omaha starter Luis Mendoza (2-0) was given an opportunity to win for the second time in the playoffs and the 14th time this season. He closed the year with victories in his final four starts and has run that streak to six-straight counting the postseason. Mendoza is 14-5 with a 2.10 ERA overall this year, including 13-2 with a 1.33 ERA in 128.2 innings since May 26.

Mendoza got some help not only from Cain’s blooper but from Kelvin Herrera, who earned the save with two dominant innings. Following up on his excellent performance in Game 1 vs. Round Rock, Herrera fired two perfect innings, striking out two. In his two postseason outings totaling four innings, Herrera has retired all 12 batters he has faced – striking out six – throwing 43 pitches, 34 for strikes.

The Chasers got Mendoza an early lead, thanks to a nice piece of two-out hitting by shortstop Irving Falu. With the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the first, Falu chopped an offering from Sacramento right-hander Graham Godfrey over the mound for an infield hit, scoring Jarrod Dyson to give Omaha an early 1-0 advantage.

The lead would hold up until two were down in the fourth, when Josh Donaldson drilled an opposite-field home run to knot the game at 1-1. The hit was the first of the game for Sacramento, one of just three they would wind up with on the night. The River Cats added to their lead in the top of the sixth inning, when a Carter RBI double brought home Jermaine Mitchell from first base to make it a 2-1 advantage for the visitors.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Chasers rallied to tie the score. Manny Pina looped a two-out single down the right-field line to get aboard safely, and last-minute starter Lance Zawadzki brought him in with an RBI double off the wall in right to tie the game and put the Chasers in a position to win. The double was Zawadzki’s first hit since the sixth inning of the Chasers’ 11-10 win at New Orleans on August 28, snapping a personal 0-for-24 skid at the plate.

With the victory, the Chasers are now 4-1 in the playoffs, with just one more game remaining at Werner Park during the magical 2011 season. Right-hander Vin Mazzaro (8-2, 4.22 including postseason) will get the ball to face his former team, while Tyson Ross (3-3, 7.38 including postseason) will pitch for the River Cats. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m., with gates at 5:45. Tickets are available at the Werner Park ticket office, by phone at (402) 738-5100 and online at www.omahastormchasers.com.

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