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JetHawks Lose 7-1 Lead; Can't Deliver in Ninth

Baseball: Game against Lake Elsinore tied, 7-7, in 11th inning; Villalobos fails to get clutch hit.

May 17, 1997|JEFF FLETCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANCASTER — The Lancaster JetHawks could not have asked for a better man to have at the plate with the potential winning run in scoring position and two out in the bottom of the ninth.

But designated hitter Carlos Villalobos, whose grand slam in the fifth helped the JetHawks build the six-run lead they squandered by the ninth, fouled out to end the ninth, sending Friday night's game against the Lake Elsinore Storm to extra innings.

The game remained tied, 7-7, in the 11th when this edition went to press.

The Hangar crowd of 5,235 probably thought a JetHawk victory was secure when Lancaster led, 7-1, and had its ace right-hander Rob Luce on the mound.

Luce pitched a brilliant five innings and then survived another two-plus in not-so-dominating fashion to give the beleaguered bullpen a rest.

Luce gave up a run in the first on a pair of singles, then retired 10 in a row before a 15-foot infield single by Trent Durrington in the fifth.

As the JetHawks were building a six-run lead, the Lake Elsinore hitters were slowly figuring out Luce.

They scored a run in the sixth to pull to within 7-2. Jon Vandergriend led off the eighth with a homer, which was followed by Norm Hutchins' single and Paul Failla's double. Luce left with two runners in scoring position and none out.

Reliever Rafael Rivera retired the next three hitters, but two of the outs drove in runs, pulling Lake Elsinore to within 7-5.

Rivera started the ninth by walking the leadoff batter, Durrington, a sin that came back to haunt him when he gave up a game-tying, two-run homer to the next batter, Richard Stuart.

Rivera retired the next three to preserve the tie.

Villalobos' failure to win it in the bottom of the inning was one of few things he had done wrong lately.

Villalobos, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single in the first, came up with the bases loaded in the fifth and drilled Fernando De La Cruz's first pitch for an opposite field grand slam, blowing open what was a 3-1 game.

Villalobos, who has been at his best when he's hitting the ball the other way, has hit in 17 of 19 games.

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