Chukars and Mavericks clinch playoff berths

Despite the Royals' tough loss to the Yankees on Monday night, Royals fans can rejoice that two more minor league affiliates have clinched playoff berths. Both the High Desert Mavericks and Idaho Falls Chukars have qualified for postseason play, joining the Wichita Wranglers to give the Royals an impressive three affiliates in the playoffs.

The Mavericks finished their regular season schedule on Sunday with a 7-2 win over Bakersfield, thanks to an impressive pitching performance by Chris Nicoll. Nicoll, who was recently promoted from Burlington, picked up his second win for the Mavs by going six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits while striking out 11.

With the win, High Desert was in a good position, but they had to wait until the Lancaster JetHawks and Lake Elsinore Storm finished their respective seasons on Monday in order to learn their fate. Lake Elsinore's victory over Inland Empire clinched the California League's South division second-half title for the Storm, and the Mavericks, by virtue of their 73-67 record, claimed the division's wild card slot.

High Desert will now play Lake Elsinore in a best-of-three series, which opens on Wednesday night at Maverick Stadium in Adelanto. The winner of the series will advance to the next round to take on the first-half South division champion Inland Empire 66ers. This is the second straight playoff appearance for the Mavs.

Later Monday evening, a combination of events sealed the Chukars' playoffs fate. The Chukars topped the Casper Rockies, 4-3, thanks to a solid pitching tandem of Everett Teaford and Aaron Hartsock. Teaford picked up the win with five strong innings, and Hartsock closed out the game with a brilliant four-inning save, allowing only two hits while striking out three. Hartsock has been the Chukars' best reliever this season, using his power curveball to limit opposing hitters to a batting average hovering around .200 while compiling an ERA of 2.91 in 46.1 IP. Joe Dickerson was the offensive star for the Chukars, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs.

Of course, the Chukars needed a little help to clinch tonight, and they received it from the Orem Owlz. The Owlz clinched the Pioneer League's second-half South division title with a 4-2 win over the Ogden Raptors. The Owlz, of course, were also the first-half champs, which means that their first round playoff opponent will be the team with the best remaining overall record.

Thanks to a solid 22-16 first half, the Chukars' overall record of 39-34 is now four games better than Ogden's 35-38 record. With only three games left to play, it will be impossible for the Raptors to catch the Chukars. That means this week's final three-game series between Idaho Falls and Ogden will be little more than a tune-up for the Chukars before they meet Orem in the first round of the playoffs this weekend.

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