Oaks Sweep Nuts to Advance

The Visalia Oaks won Thursday 5-4 to sweep the Modesto Nuts and advance to the North Division finals, a best-of-five series against San Jose that will begin Saturday.

The Oaks got their third straight strong start to bury the Nuts for the winter.  Matt Torra, who had a 6.01 ERA on the season but finished August 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA, struck out eight batters in eight innings of work.  He allowed five hits and a walk, with only one of his four runs allowed being earned.

"Torra threw a great game. He's been throwing great lately," said Cyle Hankerd, who hit the go-ahead homer in the eighth inning Thursday night.  "His change was working and he was throwing well with his curve. He was just doing what he's been doing for the last month."

In Monday's game that secured the Oaks' division title, a very similar thing happened with their starter.  Anthony Cupps, who also finished the season with a 6.01 ERA along with 13 losses, hadn't allowed more than three runs in any of his previous three starts before shutting out Stockton.

"Some of the pitchers had some bumpy starts up-and-down during the season," third baseman Brandon Burgess told FutureBacks.  "But Cupps, his last couple of starts, he's had some phenomenal games.  When he's on, it's fun to play behind him."

Burgess added that the team felt good about Hector Ambriz staring the first game against the Nuts despite getting hammered for 11 earned runs in his last regular season start.  The UCLA graduate wound up tossing eight shutout innings that game.

"He's been lights out.  He's been our go-to guy.  I don't think there was any question that he was going to put up a good day." 

In addition to getting great starting pitching, the Oaks also continued to thrive on offense, with Cyle Hankerd going 2-for-4 for the second straight day, adding that huge three-run blast in the eighth.  

"I was just looking for a fastball and [Nuts starter Alan Johnson] left one middle-in and belt-high and I put a good swing on it,'' said Hankerd. 

Greg Thomson, Derek Bruce, and Bryan Byrne each had two hits in Thursday's game.  Bruce clubbed a solo homer in the top of the first, while Byrne reached base four times total with two hits and two walks.

"This is big," Hankerd said of the sweep. "Everybody, after a long season, is run down. San Jose has just been waiting for a team to play. It's nice for us to recharge and get ready for a five-game series.''

#5 hitter Brandon Burgess went 0-for-4 for the second straight playoff game, and will be among those who will most utilize that extra day of rest that the sweep provides.  He tried not to get on himself for his performance too much because the outcome for the team was so favorable.

"You hold yourself to high standards in order to achieve your goals," Burgess told us.  "But at this point in the playoffs, a win's a win, and that's what you walk away with.  During the season, you don't see the day-to-day wins as getting anywhere as you do in the playoffs.  Right now, it's easier to walk away from an 0-for-4 night with a win, tip your hat to the pitcher, and say, 'You pitched a great game, but we're one game closer to the championship.'"

Premium members can access the rest of our in-depth interview with Brandon Burgess here.

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