By Pat Turner
San Antonio and Frisco are going in opposite directions during the early part of Texas League play.
While the Missions have sputtered out of the gates, the RoughRiders have been on fire with steady pitching and timely pitching while taking the South Division lead.
That combination worked for Frisco Tuesday night as Victor Pavano, Adam Parks and Matt Bush combined for a five-hitter and 16 strikeouts in a 3-0 win over the Missions at Wolff Stadium.
Pavano was the scene stealer this night. The lefty (3-0) was in total control, allowing two hits and striking out 13 through 6 2/3 innings. He changed speed on his pitches and confused Missions hitters the entire time. The Frisco starter was on his mark so consistently he only encountered two three-ball counts.
When Pavano left, Parks, who struck out three, and Bush were just as effective.
Although Missions pitchers Fabian Castillo, who allowed two hits and fanned seven through six innings, gave a strong showing, the RoughRiders still produced enough offense to get the upper hand.,
That made for another pleasing night for second-year manager Joe Mikulik, who is from nearby Weimar and a cousin of St. Mary’s baseball coach Charlie Migl.
“We’ve had tight games like this,” Mikulik said. “We’ve been finding ways to win. We’ve had good pitching and good hitting. We’ve played good defense. It’s been a combination of things. I’m loving it. This was great tonight because being here is close to home.”
Seeing Pavano (3-0) having a career performance made it sweeter for Mikulik.
“Victor pitched well,” Mikulik said. “He mixed his pitches well. He commanded his fastball for strikes. We saw the potential everyone sees. When he has his fastball down, he is very difficult to hit. His breaking ball was good and he threw some decent changeups. Our bullpen came in and did a good job.”
Although runs were hard to come by, the RoughRiders made it count when the opportunity was there.
Castillo (2-4) had a shaky start and Frisco benefitted.
He walked two and gave up an infield hit before a hit batsman brought home a run.
The RoughRiders came close to adding more in that inning. Preston Buck popped up near third base. The wind started playing tricks on the ball. It slipped out of Gabriel Quintana’s glove briefly, but the Missions infielder managed to make the snag to end the inning.
After that, Castillo settled in and was just as tough on Frisco as Pavano was on the Missions’ hitters. He gave up a single in the second, but went on to retired 11 in a row before surrendering a walk in the sixth.
Kyle Lloyd took over in the seventh and pitched two scoreless innings.
Still, Castillo’s performance was overshadowed by Pavano.
That’s not to say the Missions didn’t have their chances. Castillo zipped past the first 10 batters before Jose Rondon broke the string with a one-out single in the fourth.
A lead-off single by Yeison Ascencio followed in the fifth, but the Missions went away empty-handed once again. San Antonio’s best opportunity for a run came in the sixth when Auston Bousfield, the only Missions player who did not strike out, ripped a triple to right. This one didn’t materialize either as Pavano came back to get Rondon on a fly to right and a strikeout.
The lack of run production proved costly even more in the ninth when Frisco tagged reliever Jason Jester for two runs. The Missions had a helping hand in Frisco’s output.
Lewis Brinson was safe on an infield hit and went to third on Ronald Guzman’s double. Alex Bung lined a shot to left field, but Nick Torres dropped the ball, enabling Brinson to score. Guzman then scored on a fielder’s choice.
“There was good pitching on both sides,” Missions manager Phillip Wellman said. “They had a one-run lead and we were playing catch-up all night. We had one big opportunity after the triple. Rondon has been fantastic about driving in runs. He didn’t get enough out of it. He just hit it too shallow.”
Even in defeat, the Missions pitching provided some encouragement.
“Fabio pitched well,” Wellman said. “I think after that first inning he just got mad at himself and went to being aggressive and pounding the zone with his pitches. That was good to see.
“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling with our pitching. It’s good to see guys bowing the neck and saying ‘it’s going to stop with me.’ If we get enough of them with that mentality then it will stop.”