Despite their relative lack of experience playing as a unit, the Las Vegas Train Robbers are headed to the Pecos League championship series.
Las Vegas swept the Trinidad Triggers in a Saturday doubleheader held at New Mexico Highlands’ Brandt Park instead of their usual home field Rodriguez Park, which had been drenched by rainfall the previous two nights.
The first-year Train Robbers didn’t miss a beat, winning Saturday’s twice-delayed and twice-relocated playoff opener by a 5-2 count. Then they pulled away with a big fifth inning in game two for an 8-2 verdict.
Approximately 100 fans turned out for the doubleheader.
“We have a tough, resilient team that knows how to win,” said Las Vegas manager Casey Dill. “Being in close games, in tight situations, does not affect us. We are battle-tested, proven and ready to compete for a championship.”
Las Vegas will likely face the Roswell Invaders, the league’s No. 1 team overall and the champions of the South Division, in the finals. Roswell led its best-of-three series with Alpine (Texas) 1-0 going into Saturday night’s game two.
GAME ONE: Las Vegas 5, Trinidad 2
The game featured a marquee matchup between the recently crowned Pecos League Hitter of the Year Frank Florio and the Pitcher of the Year Edison Alvarez.
Alvarez and the Vegas defense kept Florio and company relatively quiet until the top of the sixth, when Florio hit a two-out, two-run bomb to right field, lifting the Triggers to a 2-1 edge.
But that was just one battle. Alvarez went on to win the war.
Vegas responded with four runs in the bottom of the frame to regain control, and neither side scored again after that.
Adam Kam drove in Chris Wilson from third on a fielder’s choice to tie the game. Dillon Usiak scored Kam for the go-ahead run, and then Gary Stauff roped a two-run single into the outfield.
In the top of the eighth, the Triggers loaded the bases against Alvarez, but a fly ball caught by Joey Haskell ended the threat. Alvarez’s final pitching stats: two earned runs allowed off nine hits and one walk with five strikeouts over eight innings; his earned run average stayed a healthy 2.25.
Eddie Medina relieved Alvarez in the ninth and retired the side for the save.
Stauff led the Las Vegas offense, going 3 for 4 with two runs batted in.
GAME TWO: Las Vegas 8, Trinidad 2
Game two had the feel of a chess match until the bottom of the fifth, when the prolific Train Robber offense pushed the visitors toward checkmate with five big runs.
Vegas scored first off Kam’s RBI groundout to score Jon Hotta in the bottom of the first.
Florio retaliated in the top of the second, launching his second home run of the day — this one a solo shot — to left center, and the contest was knotted up at 1-1.
Randy Wells connected for an RBI single to plate Hotta to put the Robbers back ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the third.
Trinidad advanced a runner to third with just one out in the top of the fifth, but Las Vegas pitcher Atsushi Hebisawa led a pretty double play to end the at-bat and preserve the one-run lead.
Ryan Lauer hit an RBI single, delivering Wells for a 3-1 lead, in the bottom of the inning. A little while later, Usiak cranked a game-changing three-run blast to right centerfield. Andrew Lopez chased that with a solo homer over the left field fence, making it a 7-1 spread.
Hebisawa and the Train Robbers allowed just one more run, and that came off a Wink Nolan RBI triple in the top of the sixth.
Wells, who’d finish 3 for 3 with two RBI, negated that run by drilling an RBI single to score pinch runner Michael Pena in the home half of the inning.
Chuck Fontana made quick work of the Triggers in his one relief pitching inning, the top of the seventh, and wrapped up the win.
Hebisawa allowed two earned runs on five hits and no walks with five strikeouts through six innings in recording the win.
Notes: Weather affected both playoff series over the weekend. Trinidad had originally been scheduled to host game one of the North Division series on Thursday night, but that was rained out. A reported scheduling conflict prevented Trinidad from being able to host on Friday, so the league moved the game to Las Vegas. But a recurrence of heavy rain doused that plan as well, forcing another cancellation. With Rodriguez Park’s field deemed unplayable, some last-minute negotiations landed the series at NMHU’s turf-covered Brandt Park, home of the Cowboy baseball team. As fans may recall, Highlands allowed the league to hold its spring combine exhibitions at Brandt back in April ... Meanwhile, the Roswell-Alpine series saw its opener bumped from Thursday to Friday due to the storm system. Roswell won Friday 7-5 ... Trinidad’s Florio earned himself a promotion to the New Jersey Jackals of the fellow indepedent Can-Am League, the Pecos League office reported Saturday. Triggers teammate Nick Mutz will join him.