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Break Does Not Bother Clifford

TIMES STAFF WRITER

We now rejoin James Clifford where he left off on Sunday.

The Lancaster JetHawks first baseman probably thought the California League all-star break couldn’t have come at a worse time--just after he had hit three-run homers in consecutive games.

But Clifford’s bat didn’t cool off during the three-day break. He drilled another three-run homer on Thursday night, providing the blow that pulled the JetHawks away in their 9-3 victory over the Lake Elsinore Storm in the second-half opener before 4,467 at the Hangar.

In the seventh inning, Clifford blasted the second pitch from reliever Greg Johnson off the roof of a storage building beyond the right-field fence, turning a 4-3 lead into a 7-3 cushion.

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It was Clifford’s 15th homer, five shy of the career-high he set last season at Lancaster. In a season and a half with the JetHawks, he has hit 35 homers, combining his natural power with a stiff wind that normally blows out to right field at the Hangar. He hit only 40 homers in his first four seasons.

The three new JetHawks in the lineup also contributed to the 12-hit attack. Second baseman Jason Regan had two doubles, catcher Karl Thompson had a double and outfielder Josh Watts hit a homer and drove in two runs.

Left-hander Damaso Marte, a prospect who has either pitched poorly or pitched well with no support all year, got his first victory.

Marte (1-5) gave up three runs in six-plus innings, drifting in and out of trouble throughout. Five walks and a hit batter contributed to several of the tight spots.

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In the first, Norm Hutchins singled and stole second, but Marte picked him off with a quick spin move. In the fourth, Lake Elsinore loaded the bases with one out, but Marte got out of the jam with a popup and a groundout. In the fifth, Hutchins was at third with one out, but Larry Barnes grounded out to first and Greg Morris popped up. And in the sixth, the JetHawks turned a double play to defuse a scoring threat.

Marte didn’t fare so well in the third, when Barnes hit a two-out, two-run triple, or in the seventh. Derek Ryder led off with a triple, then Marte was chased by Hutchins’ run-scoring single, which pulled Lake Elsinore within 4-3.

Aaron Scheffer came out of the bullpen and walked the first hitter he faced, but got out of the inning with the lead by retiring the next three hitters.

Scheffer finished the game, earning his second save.

Meanwhile, the JetHawks weren’t doing much with Lake Elsinore right-hander Jason Stephens throughout the early innings.

In the first, Lancaster loaded the bases with one out, but scored only one run--on Watts’ walk. Watts pulled the JetHawks into a 2-2 tie in his next at-bat, driving a solo homer to center field in the fourth inning.

The JetHawks scored twice in the sixth, with the help of some shoddy defense by the Storm.

Thompson led off with a double and scored when Watts hit a ground ball that shot through the legs of shortstop Justin Baughman. Later in the inning, Tarrik Brock tripled and scored when third baseman Greg Morris bobbled a grounder.

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