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Travelers stun 'Riders for Texas crown

Unassuming Arkansas routs Frisco for sixth league title
September 15, 2008
The Arkansas Travelers proved Monday that their regular season record was just that -- a record.

Wilberto Ortiz, Brian Stavisky and Coby Smith drove in two runs apiece as the visiting Travelers crushed the Frisco RoughRiders, 11-3, to claim the Texas League championship in a decisive Game 5.

Arkansas' modest 62-78 record translated into the lowest overall season winning percentage (.443) for a champion in league history. The Travs won the North Division first-half title with a 36-34 record, but stumbled to last with a 26-44 second-half mark.

"I can't explain it, we're just so happy, we're pumped," second-year Arkansas manager Bobby Magallanes said. "We shocked a lot of people, a lot of people didn't give us a lot of credit. To finish 16 games under .500, I don't know when the last time a team finished 16-under and won a title ... but these guys are motivated.

"It's just awesome, an awesome feeling," he added. "The way [we] came back to do it, on the road to a good team like Frisco."

The Game 5 victory marked the first league championship for the Travelers since 2001 and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim affiliate's sixth all-time.

"It's been great, from the last out to the celebration on the field and in the clubhouse," Stavisky said from a raucous Arkansas locker room. "The champagne is flying and we're celebrating, it's been kind of crazy. We're champions and just trying to enjoy it. It's been a long road, and this was a big win tonight for us. We're trying to enjoy it now."

The regular season was quickly forgotten once the playoffs began. The Travelers swept the Northwest Arkansas Naturals in the first round and they and the RoughRiders had to deal with ramifications of Hurricane Ike in the final round.

"We came together, we gelled as a team," Magallanes said. "The enthusiasm and chemistry was there, and the main thing was that we pitched. Our pitching gave us a chance to win, they were solid. I'm so happy and proud."

It was the first "on-field" championship win for Arkansas since 1989. The Travs were declared league champs in 2001 when the playoffs were canceled following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"This was a total team effort," Smith said. "It's unreal."

Trailing in the third, 1-0, Arkansas put up a four-spot and never looked back. Smith drove in a run with a double, Wilberto Ortiz lined a two-RBI triple and Hank Conger capped the rally with a sacrifice fly.

The Travelers piled on seven more runs in the sixth. Corey Smith, Coby Smith and Nate Sutton delivered run-scoring singles, Mark Trumbo lined a two-RBI base hit and Stavisky capped the frame with a two-run homer.

"The big innings were the key," said Stavisky, a Notre Dame product who hit .290 in the cleanup spot. "It wasn't really expected. We held them down, our pitching and defense was good and that took the pressure off. We enjoyed closing it out."

Arkansas All-Star Dan Denham lasted four innings and allowed two runs on six hits with one strikeout.

Barret Browning (2-0) struck out four and allowed one hit over two innings to pick up the win. The Travelers bullpen held Frisco to one run on four hits over five innings.

"We had a game plan. I knew that if we could take a lead through four or five innings, we were going to go with our bullpen," Magallanes said. "Our bullpen has been our strength all year."

"We were expecting a low-scoring game," Stavisky added. "We figured we could hold them down, but we needed to put some runs on the board."

Frisco had 10 hits but committed three errors and left five runners on base.

"We wanted to play aggressive and take it at them," Coby Smith said. "Try to make them make mistakes. That's what we did."

Stavisky said he was glad to go deep in the final game.

"It was kind of icing on the cake," he said. "It's definitely good to hit one and contribute to the big win. I'm glad I got to do something."

Frisco took a 1-0 lead in the first when Elvis Andrus lined a one-out single to left and scored on Dustin Majewski's groundout. Emerson Frostad added an RBI single in the fourth, and John Whittleman hit a solo homer in the seventh.

Frisco starter Neftali Feliz (2-1) was tagged for four runs on three hits and a walk over three innings.

The 'Riders ended the regular season with the best overall record in the league (84-56) and won first and second-half titles.

Arkansas' Ryan Leahy, who announced his retirement prior to the game, popped up in his final at-bat as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. He ended his career as a champion.

"It's unbelievable, I can't describe it," Coby Smith said. "This is my first championship, and we have a few guys who've been playing a long time. We're taking advantage of the celebration. For this team to come through when it counted and with what we've been through, it's amazing."

Danny Wild is a contributor to