Chihuahuas sweep Reno to advance to PCL finals

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Nina Titovets

Daniel Mendez, Contributor

Hunter Renfroe’s go-ahead RBI double down the left field line in the eighth inning was the game-changer, helping push El Paso to a 7-6 win over the Reno Aces on Friday, Sept. 8 at Southwest University Park.

The win on Friday gave the Chihuahuas a three-game sweep of the Aces to win the PCL Pacific Conference Championship and secure a spot in the Pacific Coast League Championship series for the second consecutive season. The Chihuahuas will look to defend their 2016 PCL title against either the Memphis Redbirds or Colorado Springs Sky Sox starting on Wednesday, Sept. 13 on the road.

Manager Rod Barajas has seen his team grow since day one.

“It’s definitely special, they give you a group of boys in the beginning of spring training and you’re pretty much around these guys for five months straight and you’re constantly teaching and constantly seeing growth,” said Barajas. “When you see them set out and accomplish what they wanted to in the beginning of the season it is gratifying.”

The Chihuahuas trailed nearly the entire game, having to overcome both a 3-0 and 4-2 deficit through six 1/2 innings of play. Starting pitcher Walter Lockett struggled early, allowing three runs in three innings.

Tony Cruz hit a two-run home-run in the bottom of the third to help the Chihuahuas write the comeback story.

After a rocky fifth inning for the Chihuahuas highlighted by errors and mistakes on the defensive side, the Aces regained the lead at 4-2 off a Christian Walker RBI single. Walker won the 2017 PCL’s most valuable player award prior to the series with El Paso. Walker went 4-for-11 in the three games with six RBI’s.

The scoring would be halted until the seventh inning where El Paso would tie things up for the first time since the start of the game. Cruz came up big again with a two-run double to knot up the game at 4-4.

The biggest hit of the night came in the eighth when Renfroe hit a scorching line drive down left field line to score Rafael Ortega, the game’s eventual winning run. Two more runs would eventually cross the plate for El Paso in the eighth thanks to an outfield floater and Reno error. The Chihuahuas would take a three-run cushion heading into the ninth frame.

In the ninth inning, Walker tagged on Cory Mazzoni pitch for a two-run moonshot that brought the Aces to within one but the rally ended and Mazzoni picked up his second save in the series.

Renfroe, who played for the San Diego Padres nearly the entire season was sent down right before the Chihuahuas made their push.

“Its been huge, when guys get sent down from the major leagues you usually see one or two different personalities come out. They come down here and they’re angry or they don’t want to work and they feel like they’ve been cheated or they come down here and say okay, I want to get better,” said Barajas. “I want to continue to improve, play hard and give everything I have and that is the category he (Renfroe) falls into.”

The Chihuahuas will face the winner of the PCL American Conference series between the Memphis Redbirds and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. The series sits at a 2-1 advantage for the Sky Sox as of now. The Chihuahuas faced both teams this season, dropping the series to the Redbirds (1-2) in Memphis and the splitting the series against the Sky Sox (2-2) in El Paso.

While the Chihuahuas will start on the road for the first two games of the series, the team will be at home Friday, Sept. 15 for game three as well as Saturday, Sept. 16 and Sunday, Sept. 17, if necessary. The series winner is best three out of five.