Chihuahuas win big on opening day

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Chihuahuas win big on opening day

Jason Green, Sports Editor

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The strength of the defending PCL Champion El Paso Chihuahuas roster heading into the home opener against the always tough Las Vegas 51s, appeared to be the pitching. That held true on Thursday night in front of an opening day crowd of 9,761, as starter Walker Lockett pitched six innings of six hit ball, striking out eight and only giving up one run.

The Chihuahuas would back Lockett with a strong bullpen and plenty of run support and bring home an 8-1 victory on Thursday night.

Third baseman Cory Spangenberg started the game off with a barehanded pick up of a swinging bunt off the bat of 51s lead-off hitter Gavin Cecchini. Spangenberg, in the process of converting from a second baseman, deftly handled the ball and got Cecchini by a foot at first.

Chihuahuas manager Rod Barajas was happy with the tone that Spangenberg’s hustle set for his young team.

“I think (Spangenberg’s) first play of the game kind of set the tone, that was a tough play against a tough runner,” said Barajas with his typical big smile. “You know he’s playing back, a swinging bunt, a guy who can run pretty good and he comes up, makes a barehand play, throws him out at first base. That was a great way to start the season.”

Lockett had struck out five without any run support through four innings, but that all changed in a big way as the Chihuahuas were finally able to get to 51s starter Adam Wilk in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Returning PCL Rookie of the Year, second baseman Carlos Asuaje, reached on an error by 51s third baseman Phillip Evans who bobbled a sharp hit grounder to his right side. The next batter, Spangenberg was hit by Wilk.

Next up was towering right fielder Jabari Blash who crushed Wilk’s first offering to left-center, almost through the S-Mart sign, plating both Asuaje and Spangenberg. Two batters later, new Chihuahua Collin Cowgill, in only his second at-bat ever at Southwest University Park, launched a change-up from Wilk over Chico posing for pictures beyond the centerfield wall and almost out of the playground deep in center.

Cowgill said after the game that he really enjoyed his first experience in downtown El Paso.

“It’s a beautiful park. The fans were amazing,” said Cowgill. “Couldn’t ask for much more on opening day, it was a good experience. Lockett threw great, I wasn’t the only one that connected tonight. We had some guys swing the bat well.”

Another guy who swung the bat well was centerfielder Franchy Cordero. After Lockett walked to lead off the bottom of the fifth, Cordero hit a home run on to the Peter Piper Pizza Porch in leftfield to extend the Chihuahuas lead to 6-0.

Perhaps it was his base running that tired Lockett out, but the 6’5” pitcher tired in the top of the sixth inning, allowing his only run on a single to right fielder Travis Taijeron that plated shortstop Amed Rosario.

Lockett was pulled after six, but said that he hopes that it was just being fresh out of spring training that caused him to tire so quickly.

“I felt pretty good through the whole game. I was able to bear down and get through the last inning,” said Lockett. “I’ve definitely got to build up, probably later in the year, you hope that’s not there. But, I feel pretty good.”

An 8-1 opening day victory should make just about anyone feel good. Barajas clearly felt very good about his team, who should have been pitching strong, but on this night was strong in every aspect of the game.

“Solid all the way around. Pitching was big today. Lockett giving us six strong innings,” said Barajas. “I felt like this team was a really well balanced team and figured that we’d be good in pretty much all aspects of the game and today was one of those days where it kind of all showed up.”

The Chihuahuas face the 51s in game two of the five game set tomorrow at 7 p.m. with Tyrell Jenkins (0-0) going for the Chihuahuas against Wilfredo Boscan (0-0) for Las Vegas.

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