The 66ers chances of winning a first-half title were slim entering the half’s final week, but the team has nonetheless succeeded in the role of spoiler.
On Thursday night, they made it even more painful for the former first-place Lake Elsinore Storm.
Ryan Rogowski’s bloop single to center with two outs in the 16th inning scored Esteban Lopez with the winning run as the Sixers won 4-3 before 1,227 fans at Arrowhead Credit Union Park.
It was the longest Sixers game since the 18-inning loss to Lancaster in April. It was the team’s first extra-inning win since April 29, 2007 against Modesto in San Bernardino.
The victory wrapped up a three-game sweep by the Sixers (30-37) over the Storm (32-35), who entered the series a game ahead in the South Division.
Lake Elsinore is now two games back in the South with three games to play as Lancaster swept a three-game series at San Jose. Lake Elsinore hosts the Mavericks this weekend, while Lancaster is at Visalia.
The Sixers will have another chance to play spoiler as they take a 6 a.m. bus today to play Stockton to end the half. Stockton trails San Jose by one game in the North Division race.
The game had plenty of scoring in the late innings of regulation, then nothing again until the 16th.
With the score 3-3 in the 16th, Esteban Lopez, 0-for-5 until that point, singled to center against Richie Daigle (3-6). Trayvon Robinson sacrificed him to second and Justin Fuller was intentionally walked. Second baseman Eric Sogard made a great play on a Carlos Santana grounder to keep the score tied, allowing the runners to move up.
But Rogowski followed with a bloop single to center, scoring the game-winner.
The Sixers were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position in the game; the Storm were 3-for-14.
The Storm trailed 2-0 entering the eighth and had two outs and no one on.
But Javis Diaz singled against 66ers all-star reliever Paul Koss and Cedric Hunter walked.
Sogard’s single to right scored Diaz with the Storm’s first run, and Sam Carter followed with a dribbler up the third base line. Third baseman Austin Gallagher had no play and the infield single tied the score 2-2.
The Sixers took the lead in the bottom of the eighth when Santana walked with one out and Drew Locke doubled off the wall in right to score Santana against Storm closer R.J. Rodriguez.
The Storm responded with a rally against the Sixers closer, Jacobo Meque.
Kellen Kulbacki singled with one out and Jesus Lopez singled with two outs to send Kulbacki to second. Pinch hitter Keoni Ruth, who struck out against Meque to end Wednesday’s game, singled to center to score Kulbacki. Lopez was thrown out trying to go to third, but the Storm had tied the score 3-3.
The Sixers squandered opportunities in the late innings to pull out the win.
Christian Lara tripled with one out in the bottom of the ninth against Rodriguez, but Lopez and Robinson each popped up on the first pitch they saw to send the game into extra innings.
Inland Empire left runners in scoring position each inning from the eighth through the 12th.
Nearly lost in the game were outstanding starts by the Storm’s Ernesto Frieri and the Sixers’ Tim Sexton. Frieri allowed runs in each of the first two innings, but didn’t allow any more in a six-inning performance. He struck out five and walked two while allowing four hits.
Sexton went seven shutout innings, as the Storm hit into three double plays in that time. Sexton allowed seven hits, struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.
The Sixers got seven innings of shutout relief from Javy Guerra (3 2/3 innings), David Pfeiffer (1/3 inning) and Joe Jones (three innings, improving his record to 2-2).