LANCASTER – Although the Lancaster JetHawks came away with an 8-4 loss Monday to the Inland Empire 66ers in the last game of the regular season, the team has bigger fish to fry.
Starting Wednesday, the JetHawks (77-63) will face the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (79-61) in the California League playoffs, marking the fifth straight year Lancaster has advanced to the postseason. The Quakes won the California League championship last season.
JetHawks manager Ramon Vazquez said the team played well in its final two series of the year, which puts it in a good situation heading into Wednesday.
“I’m very happy, very pleased at the way they handled themselves the last week of the season,” Vazquez said. “So I’m looking forward to going to (Rancho Cucamonga) in a couple of days and start this first series. It’s exciting.”
Vazquez said the team did not play well against the Quakes early in the season, but they’ve since turned it around against Rancho Cucamonga in more recent series. Lancaster last played the Quakes from Aug. 30-Sept. 1, winning the three-game series 2-1.
Vazquez said his players are younger than those on the Quakes, and some on the roster have not played playoff baseball at the minor-league level. But the team is looking forward to continuing its season, he said.
“At times, you play in organizations and by the end of the season, guys kind of can’t wait to go home and relax and they miss their families. I see that that’s not the case here,” Vazquez said. “These guys are excited. These guys want to be there. They want to be in that situation. So I think that’s a plus for us.”
JetHawks right-handed pitcher Brock Dykxhoorn is the probable starter for Game 1 Wednesday. He said the key to winning the series against the Quakes will be Lancaster’s pitching.
“Pitching always seems to win or lose games, especially in the postseason,” Dykxhoorn said. “There’s probably going to be some pretty close games – one-run, two-run games. As long as we play clean baseball defensively and put up a couple of runs, I think pitching is usually the deciding factor.”
Vazquez said the JetHawks will have to limit their errors in order to come away with a series victory over the Quakes.
“The team that makes the less amount of mistakes is going to win that series,” Vazquez said.
But aside from what goes on during the game, Vazquez said his team simply might want to win more than Rancho Cucamonga, which could be what gets the JetHawks over the top.
“I don’t think any of their guys are as excited as this group is,” Vazquez said. “They’re young, they’re hungry (and) they want to be in this situation. It’s actually something that I have not seen in a team in a long time in the minor leagues.”
On Monday, left-handed pitcher Framber Valdez made his JetHawks debut, but gave up four runs in the first inning to the 66ers.
Valdez allowed five runs, three earned, on eight hits and two walks with one strikeout in 5 innings.
Shortstop Osvaldo Duarte hit an inside-the-park home run to get the JetHawks on the board in the bottom of the first inning.
Lancaster showed some offensive life in the middle of the game when left fielder Kyle Tucker hit a solo homer in the bottom of the fourth. Then, in the bottom of the fifth, center fielder Christian Correa hit a solo shot of his own over the fence, cutting the JetHawks’ deficit to just two runs.
But the 66ers scored three unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh, and Lancaster was unable to recover.
Vazquez said the game should’ve been much closer than the final result indicated, and blamed the loss on costly mistakes. The JetHawks committed three errors in the game.
“Every error we made today cost us a run,” Vazquez said.