RENO — After El Paso spotted Reno a 1-0 lead in their Pacific Coast League playoff game at Greater Nevada Field, the Chihuahuas scored two runs to take the lead and then added one more for a 3-1 win before 3,196 fans.
Reno came in as the Pacific Northern Division winner with an 80-62 record, while El Paso, which outhit Reno 9-8, won the Southern at 73-69.
The two teams resume their best-of-five-game series tonight at 7:05 p.m.
The Aces struck first in the second inning off El Paso starter and winning pitcher Chris Huffman when Jack Reimheimer smacked a leadoff triple to the right field wall. Evan Marzilli batted in the Reno shortstop with an infield grounder.
El Paso tied the game in the top of the fourth inning after right fielder Hunter Renfroe ripped a 1-0 pitch off Reno pitcher Jake Buchanan for a solo homerun to left field. Nick Buss followed with a double and beat the tag. Buchanan retired the next two batters before Joe Rondon hit an infield grounder and beat the throw while Renfroe scored the go-ahead run.
Reno had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the inning with runners on second and third, but Vargas’ hit to deep centerfield was caught.
El Paso added to its lead in the fifth inning after Renfroe batted in his second run with an infield groundout.
Travis Jankowski led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on Franchy Cordero’s double down the right field line. Cordero belted two doubles on the night, and Jankowski also had two hits.
Both starting pitchers had trouble in the early innings. Huffman wiggled out of several jams but settled down during the middle innings, keeping Reno scoreless for five innings before Adam Climber relieved him in the seventh with one out and recorded the final two outs.
The Aces, though, pulled off the defensive play of the game in the seventh inning. Jankowski led off the inning with a double, but Emilio Bonificio fired a perfect throw to first baseman Christian Walker to retire the next batter, Chase d’Arnauld. Walker, the PCL player of the year, then threw a strike across the infield to catcher Ronnie Freeman who was covering at third base. Freeman grabbed the throw and dropped down to his knees to tag out the head-first sliding Jankowski.
Kaleb Fleck relieved Buchanan in the eighth inning with a steady rain falling, which had held off until the sixth inning. Fleck had little difficulty in retiring the Chihuahuas during the final two innings as he struck out three and walked one.
Reno had another defensive gem in the top of the ninth. El Paso shortstop Jose Rondon hit a deep fly to centerfield, but Marzilli tracked it down and made a running back-handed catch in front of the wall.
El Paso’s third pitcher of the night, Cory Mazzoni, retired the side in the ninth to earn the save.