Championships a game away for Missions, Storm

Wade LeBlanc and Nick Hundley put the San Antonio Missions within one game of winning the Texas League Championship. We spoke with LeBlanc after the game. Nathan Culp and Craig Cooper gave the Lake Elsinore Storm a commanding 2-0 lead in the California League Championship. We caught up with Culp afterwards.

San Antonio won 3-2 over Springfield [lead best-of-five series, 2-1]

It is a strange day when both pitchers collect a hit in a Double-A game.

Wade LeBlanc (2-0) had more hits than runs allowed and fell shy of matching Springfield's hit total during his time on the mound by one, notching two singles. He limited the Cardinals to one run on three hits, giving up a single to the opposing pitcher and a solo homer.

"Senior year in high school," LeBlanc said of his last two-hit night. "It felt good. I wish there was some guys on base so I could help the team out. I think my luck had about run out after two. I was glad to get out of there after going 2-for-2."

LeBlanc entered the game with one hit on the year, although he upped his on base percentage to .467 over 15 plate appearances. He has allowed one run on five hits while striking out 16 over 12 postseason innings. The left did walk four before, ironically, being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh.

The southpaw tossed 91 pitches, 57 for strikes. He has won his last six games dating back to the regular season, allowing four runs over that span – spread over 35 innings. His four walks, however, set a season-high. He had walked three in a game twice over 29 outings. Three of the walks came in the sixth inning.

"Throwing strikes, keeping the ball down, changing speeds, keeping the hitters off-balance and letting the guys play behind me," LeBlanc said of his success. "They have done a great job behind me ever since I got here."

Nick Hundley provided the muscle for San Antonio. Coming into the game with two hits in his first 16 at bats in the postseason, although he had drawn six walks, Hundley cracked two homers. He hit a solo shot in the fifth to tie the game at 1-1 and put San Antonio ahead with a two-run blast in the seventh – both into a heavy wind that gusted in towards home plate.

Hundley has four different multi-homer games this season, his last coming on July 17 when he accomplished the task in back-to-back games.

Edwin Moreno worked a perfect ninth to record his second save of the postseason. The right-hander has allowed one hit over his four innings of playoff work.

"We have Ekstrom going and he has been pitching really well of late," said LeBlanc. "He has had a lot of time to rest and I think he is going to come out fresh and ready to go.

"We can smell it now. We are within one game of the goal that we busted our butts for over an entire season, especially the guys who have been here all season. I am just along for the ride. We smell it now."

And how tough is it for a starter to watch as fate is dictated by someone else's hands?

"After you have a good game you can sit back and enjoy baseball – after you did what your job is," said LeBlanc. "You did what you were supposed to do. I have complete confidence in the guys behind us and complete confidence in the rest of the pitching staff. It is going to be easy to enjoy some baseball tomorrow."

Lake Elsinore won 3-2 over San Jose [lead best-of-five series, 2-0]

A confident San Jose manager felt the first two games were gimmies with his starting pitching. The Storm starters bested them for the second straight game to take a commanding lead in the series.

"It is the same approach everybody has – that we can beat anybody," Nathan Culp said. "I was getting ahead of most everybody that I was facing and was able to locate my fastball. I think I had 12 ground ball outs but I was able to get them early in the count and keep my pitch count down."

Culp (1-0) allowed a single run on six hits and a walk over seven innings. He was aided by right fielder Craig Cooper's outfield assist, tossing out a runner at home to end the sixth inning in style. Culp went six in his first playoff appearance, allowing two runs on five hits over six innings in a no-decision.

"The defense behind me was outstanding. We picked off a runner, turned a couple of double plays, and then Cooper throwing that runner out – that was the turning point of the game right there.

"The guy before him hit a double on a good 3-1 changeup. The next guy comes up and hits a first-pitch fastball the other way. Luckily enough, Cooper was able to come up throwing and get him at the plate."

Cooper had a productive night at the plate as well. He didn't net a hit but added sacrifice flies in the fourth and sixth to plate two runs. His five sacrifice flies during the regular season tied for second-most on the club.

For the second night in a row, Ernesto Frieri struck out the side – this time around two walks. R.J. Rodriguez picked up his first postseason save after leading the minor league system with 18 during the regular season.

The Storm are now up 2-0 and have a chance to wrap the season up with a California League Championship on Saturday in San Jose.

"That is the way we look at it – a final game," said Culp. "We have (Stephen) Faris going tomorrow and he has been throwing well for us. It is going to be a close game because their pitching is good, but I think we are confident enough that we will put up enough runs for our pitchers.

Is it tough for Culp to sit on the sidelines now that his job is done with a deciding game up next?

"There are other things to do, just picking guys up and being there," said Culp. "It takes everyone to win, whether you are pitching or not. In terms of pitching I am done, but I still feel like I am playing. It is exciting, whether I am pitching or not."

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