The Storm will move on to play Inland Empire (Mariners) in Inland Empire for a best-of-five series. Lake Elsinore plays Saturday and Sunday in IE and returns home for games three through five, as necessary.
High Desert loaded the bases in the seventh inning off three Storm relievers. James Tomlin lined a 3-2 pitch down the left field line that bounced around the corner for a triple, bringing High Desert within a run, 7-6.
Tim Brown would single in a run on a 3-1 pitch in the bottom half, providing the Storm with a two-run cushion and final margin of victory.
Neil Jamison came on in the ninth inning to record the save.
"Big game," Jamison stated. "To come up with the big win and extend it is a big deal. It was a good team victory tonight."
The Mavericks also loaded the bases in the fourth inning but second baseman Sean Kazmar ranged far to his left and onto the outfield grass, diving and throwing out Michael Gafney to preserve a 7-3 lead.
"If you have to think about a pivotal play, Kazmar's play to the glove side, the left side in shallow left field – that play was the turning point," manager Rick Renteria said. "If that play goes unmade, the momentum shifts dramatically."
The Storm manufactured a run in the first inning. After Adam Bourassa singled to lead off the frame, he stole second with one out, moved over to third on a ground out and scored on a Nic Crosta single. Brown would add a run scoring single and an errant throw push the third run across the board.
Chris Niccol was chased after an inning and two-thirds with three runs in and runners on second and third. After reliever Adam Lowe loaded the bases, Nic Crosta singled under the glove of the second baseman to bring in two with all the runs charged to Niccol.
"I got fortunate to get a couple of hits," Crosta began. "I had struggled with the bat a little bit. Playoffs, it is nice to be able to help out the team and we were able to tack on five more. It was a good team victory."
Ed Lucas smashed a two-run double over the outstretched hand of Peter Ciofrone in left-center to close the gap to 5-2.
Josh Howard's single followed a Nick Hundley double to give Lake Elsinore a run in their third straight inning to open the game. Hundley slid under the tag of catcher Kiel Thibault, despite the ball arriving before Hundley. Adam Bourassa collected his third of the game, a double that plated Howard and pushed the lead to 7-2.
Matt Buschmann had two in scoring position in the fourth inning without an out on the scoreboard. He roared back to whiff the next two hitters before walking two in a row on eight pitches, bringing home a run. The right-hander would last six frames, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits and three walks over six innings – with 83 pitches thrown.
"I had some trouble in the fourth and didn't really feel comfortable," Buschmann said. "But I came back and shut them down in the sixth and that was a big inning."
"They did a heck of a job," pitching coach Steve Webber said of his pitching staff. "Every one of the guys made a major contribution coming down the stretch. I just let them know that it didn't surprise me that they did it."
"It was a nice win," added Renteria. "I tip my cap to High Desert. They played us hard the whole year. They never gave up. Likewise, our kids played hard and never gave up. It is not over. We have to go against Inland Empire and they always play us tough. I don't expect it is going to be any easier."
Fort Wayne lost 3-0 to West Michigan (Tigers) – lose series
Greg Burke pounded the zone for six innings, allowing a run on five hits and a walk while striking out four. Eleven of his 13 outs that were hit into the field came by way of the groundout. The right-hander has allowed one earned run over his last 12 innings. Over his last seven starts, including the playoffs, Burke has a 2.70 ERA – spanning 46.2 innings.
Alfredo Fernandez gave up a two-run homer to top prospect Cameron Maybin, the 19th ranked prospect in baseball by Scout.com. It was the second homer the right-hander allowed in three playoff games and he was on the hook for four runs, three earned, over two innings. He allowed three homers all season in 65.1 innings. Fernandez allowed runs in 20 of his 52 outings on the season, posting a 0.87 ERA in August.
Brandon Higelin joined Fernandez as the only other pitcher to appear in all three playoff games. He was on the hook for an unearned run on Friday – the inherited runner that scored on Maybin's dinger. He allowed four hits and a walk over 3.1 innings.
Fort Wayne Wizards left fielder Will Venable and manager Randy Ready were ejected by home plate umpire Brad Myers at the end of the eighth inning. David Freese had grounded into a double play to end the frame with Venable sliding hard into second base to break up the double play and earning the ire of the second baseman who had some derogatory words for Venable. Both benches cleared and no player from West Michigan was tossed. Ready was tossed defending Venable.
Venable, incidentally, went 2-for-4 with a double and a walk. He led the Wizards with seven hits over three playoff games, adding a walk, two doubles, and two runs scored.