FARMINGTON — Southern California's Connie Mack World Series title defense opened with a bang Saturday afternoon at Ricketts Park.
The Renegades rode the powerful right arm of starting pitcher Jacob Nix through five shutout innings before coming up with a seven-run top of the sixth at the plate as SoCal secured a 10-0 run-rule victory against Puerto Rico's Arecibo Lobos.
"It was a nice first game for us. We were a little tight in spots, but our pitching pitched well, and we got out of a jam or two and made it work for ourselves," said Renegades head coach Si Pettrow.
Nix, a UCLA verbal commit, dominated the Puerto Rico lineup with a fastball that reached 92 miles per hour at times. In five complete innings of work, Nix struck out eight and allowed just two hits while issuing two walks.
"I was really nervous coming into the game and playing in front of a big crowd," Nix said. "My mechanics were not all there today. I wasn't really feeling it, but I went out and competed. Being the defending champs, we are the target that everyone wants to beat. Getting the first win out of the way was a big deal."
Puerto Rico head coach Rafael Perez said his team had a tough time adjusting to Nix's velocity because the players only see pitchers throwing 85 to 86 miles per hour usually in Puerto Rico.
"Our players are not used to it. We couldn't adjust to the pitcher. He was really good with a good change up and curve ball, too," Perez said through translator Javier Cornier.
After two scoreless innings to open the game, SoCal struck for three runs in the third inning. Darren Miller drew a one-out walk to turn over the lineup, and Frankie Rios followed with a single. Daniel Patzlaff drew another walk to load the bases with one out for three-hole hitter Tanner Buis, who delivered a two-run single. A throw to third base went over the head of Puerto Rico's third baseman, allowing Patzlaff to also score on the play.
"That was huge. We got the right situation with our best hitter up and less than two outs, and he got the ball through the infield and we scored a few runs," Pettrow said. "That took a lot of pressure off our defense and let them just play."
Perez said the extra run scored on the throwing error from right field cost his team a chance to keep the game closer.
"Our pitcher (Kevin Serrano) did a good job in the first innings. The third inning was bad for him with the two walks and then the throw from right field that allowed a run to score," Perez said. "Serrano did a good job, but if that play is made, maybe we keep the game close."
Puerto Rico threatened to score in the bottom of the fourth inning after Angel Perez led off with a single and Jay Feliciano reached on a SoCal error, but Nix was able to get two strikeouts and a ground ball out to end the inning without any damage being done.
Puerto Rico pulled Serrano off the mound after recording one out in the top of the sixth inning. The Lobos went on to make four pitching changes in the inning as the Renegades scored seven runs.
A Brian Severn single started the rally before SoCal drew three, two-out walks. A Rios double scored two SoCal runs before Patzlaff came up with a two-run single of his own. Buis came through with an RBI-triple and Joe Corrigan ripped an RBI-single to round out the inning's scoring.
Rios finished the game 3-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored. Patzlaff was 1-for-2 with two RBIs and a run scored, while Buis went 2-for-4 with a triple, three RBIs and a run scored.
Pettrow relieved Nix with Isaiah Terrazas in the sixth. He slammed the door on Puerto Rico with two strikeouts while allowing one hit.
Puerto Rico dropped to the losers' bracket with the loss. The Lobos will face the host team Strike Zone Baseball at 8 p.m. Sunday at Ricketts Park.
"I don't think our players will have any pressure because it came and went in the first game," Perez said. "We need to start hitting well, but we have two really good pitchers ready to go."
SoCal earned a bye with the win and won't play again until Tuesday night.
"It is great getting the bye to see more baseball and get the whole hometown experience. The kids start feeling like it is their home," Pettrow said. "We have already planned a trip to Durango to river raft again on Monday, and we will enjoy the home run derby on Sunday. The first thing we talk about when we get here is the Durango trip. You have to get a bye to do it, and we were fortunate to get it done."