Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Venados hold off Aragua, go to 3-0 at Serie del Caribe

Yuniesky Betancourt bopped a two-run double and later scored to key a three-run fourth inning as the Mezatlan Venados went on to beat Venezuela's Aragua Tigres in Santo Domingo Wednesday to go to 3-and-0 at the 2016 Caribbean Series, clinching a berth in Saturday's semifinals while take sole ownership of first place in the opening round robin.

Aruagua took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third when Oscar Salazar opened with a single off Mazatlan starter Alejandro Soto, moved to second after Soto uncorked a wild pitch to Juniel Querecuto and came in to score on Adonis Garcia's single to center field.  

Alex Liddi socked a leadoff triple in the bottom of the fourth and Jorge Vaquez was plunked by a Omar Bencomo pitch to bring up Bentacourt with one out.  The former Mariners shortstop grounded Bencomo's into left field for a double, scoring Liddi and Vazquez to give Mazatlan the lead, then (after Esteban Quiroz struck out) came across with a tally on Erick Rodriquez' single to left to make it a 3-1 contest.

The Venezuelans cut their deficit to one in the top of the sixth when Hernan Perez' ground ball up the middle made it into center field to bring in Dariel Alvarez from third, but Mazatlan put two more on the board in the bottom of the frame after Quiroz's one-out double scored Cyle Hankerd all the way from first, followed by Quiroz motoring in to score when Rodriguez topped a grounder to third base and Garcia threw the ball beyond the glove of Salazar at first, bringing the Venados lead to 5-2.

Mazatlan added one more run in the seventh when Hankerd lined a 3-and-2 Jesus Sanchez pitch into center to score Justin Greene from third.  The Tigres scored twice in the eighth as Jose Martinez scored from third when a Jake Sanchez pitch to Salazar got away from catcher Rodriguez for one run and Sandy Leon's single up the middle with two out allowed Hernan Perez, who was running on the pitch, to score from second.  That was as close as Aragua would get, however, as Steven Hensley picked up his second save of the CS with a scoreless ninth despite giving up a single and a walk.

Soto got the win despite a mediocre start in which he gave up two runs on six hits in 5.2 innings as the Venezuelans outhit the Mexican Pacific League champs by a 15-12 margin.  Bencomo was tagged with the loss after getting rocked for three runs on six hits in 3.2 frames.  Greene had three singles for the Venados while Hankerd, Rodriguez and Quiroz each had two safeties (with Quiroz collecting a pair of doubles). Garcia, Alvarez and Martinez all had three singles as Aragua failed to get an extra-base hit in the game.

The Venados will rest Thursday before wrapping up the first round Friday at 2:30PM Eastern time against the legendary Santurce Cangrejeros, winners of 14 Puerto Rican championships and five Caribbean Series titles who once had Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays playing side-by-side in the outfield in the early Fifties.  Mazatlan's win Wednesday gives manager Juan Jose Pacho's squad sole possession of first place as the CS' sole unbeaten team, and even a loss Friday to the Crabbers won't keep them out of Saturday's semis.