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Aviators’ rally falls short in 7-5 loss to Reno

After squandering early lead, Las Vegas battles back but leaves bases loaded in bottom of the ninth as Aces hang on for series-opening win
Brian Howard pitched five solid innings Thursday night, but got a no-decision in the Aviators’ 7-5 loss to the Reno Aces at Las Vegas Ballpark. (Steve Spatafore | Las Vegas Aviators)
June 11, 2021

The Aviators returned home Thursday night for the first time in more than two weeks and were greeted by a sight that hadn’t been seen in 21 months: a packed house at Las Vegas Ballpark. Unfortunately, they were also greeted by a gritty opponent that simply refused to crumble under

The Aviators returned home Thursday night for the first time in more than two weeks and were greeted by a sight that hadn’t been seen in 21 months: a packed house at Las Vegas Ballpark.

Unfortunately, they were also greeted by a gritty opponent that simply refused to crumble under pressure.

Despite building early leads of 3-0 and 4-2 — and despite mounting a ninth-inning rally — the Aviators couldn’t quite close the deal against intrastate rival Reno, falling 7-5 in the opener of a six-game series and 12-game homestand.

Trailing 7-4 entering the bottom of the ninth, Las Vegas (16-15) provided a season-high crowd of 8,021 with plenty of reason for optimism in its last turn at bat, when four of the first five hitters reached safely on Pete Kozma’s solo home run, followed by Frank Schwindel’s double and consecutive walks by Austin Allen and Francisco Peña. But Reno closer Miguel Aguilar wiggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam when he retired Cody Thomas and Jacob Wilson on a flyout and groundout, respectively, to end the game.

With the loss, the Aviators saw their three-game winning streak come to an end and fell four games back of the Aces (20-11) in the West Division standings of Triple-A West.

The season-long, 12-game homestand certainly got off to a promising start for the home team, which took a 3-1 lead into the sixth inning after scoring twice in the bottom of the first on a wild pitch and Peña’s RBI single, followed by Schwindel’s solo home run leading off the bottom of the fifth.

However, the Aces quickly erased that deficit when they tagged Las Vegas relief pitchers James Naile and Argenis Angulo for a combined five runs in the sixth and seven innings to grab a 7-4 lead.

Having made a habit of regularly rallying from late-inning deficits through the first five weeks of the season, the Aviators looked like they were going to pull yet another rabbit out of the hat in the bottom of the ninth, when Kozma crushed a ball over the left-field wall leading off the inning. One out later, Las Vegas loaded the basis on Schwindel’s double followed by walks to Allen and Peña. But Aguilar shut the rally down when he retired Thomas and Wilson, giving the Aces their fifth win in seven games this season against their rivals to the south.

GAME NOTES: Schwindel finished the night 3-for-5, including his team-leading ninth home run. Over his last three games, the first baseman is 7-for-13 with two doubles, four homers, five RBI and five runs. ... Kozma was the only other Las Vegas batter with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with two runs, a walk and an RBI. … Aviators starting pitcher Brian Howard delivered his best performance of the season, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out three in five innings. ... The Aviators went 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base. Combined, both teams went 2-for-21 with runners in scoring position. ... Five Reno relief pitchers held the Aviators to two runs and four hits over the final six innings. … The Aces clubbed four home runs in the game, all between the fourth and seventh innings.

ON DECK: Right-hander Matt Milburn (1-2, 10.66 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Aviators on Friday and oppose Reno southpaw Tyler Gilbert (1-0, 6.35) in the second game of the six-game series. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m., and a fireworks show will follow the game.

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