The River Cats had their backs against the wall coming into Saturday's game. Thanks to a key offensive showing from Zach Houchins, they evened the playing field.
Sacramento jumped out to an early lead against Las Vegas and never looked back, defeating the Aviators, 5-3, at Las Vegas Ballpark and forcing a winner-take-all Game 5 in the Pacific Coast League semifinals. Houchins ripped his first homer of the postseason en route to a 2-for-4 performance.
Video: Sacramento's Houchins rakes opposite field homer
After a 11-4 loss on Friday night, Sacramento came out swinging. Giants No. 27 prospect Abiatal Avelino led off the game with a single against 14th-ranked A's prospect Grant Holmes, advanced to third on Mike Gerber's double and scored one batter later when Cristhian Adames grounded out.
The River Cats never relinquished the lead.
Gameday box score
Houchins' big blast kicked off the fifth. Facing Holmes, the right-handed-hitting 26-year-old roped an 0-1 pitch for an opposite-field long ball to increase Sacramento's advantage to 2-0. The River Cats tacked on a run later in the frame and one more on a sixth-inning jack by Adames.
"I just wanted to hit something hard," Houchins said. "They kept throwing me fastballs away and I haven't been able to hit them. I finally made an adjustment."
Las Vegas threatened a comeback, with Dustin Garneau's RBI double in the eighth cutting the deficit to 4-3. However, Peter Maris responded with a solo dinger off reliever Jharel Cotton in the ninth.
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Sacramento buckled down. Enderson Franco worked a perfect bottom half to preserve the win, fanning Trace Loehr for the final out.
"Tonight was big-time," Houchins said. "We found a way against a good starting pitcher for them and found a way against some of their relievers. We have a lot of heart on this team."
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Although his offensive production paved the way, Houchins was quick to credit starting pitcher Carlos Navas, who hurled five innings of one-hit ball. The 27-year-old right-hander struck out three and walked two in matching his longest outing of the season.
"Our starting pitcher threw a heck of a game for five innings and our relievers came in and held it for us," Houchins said.
The decisive fifth game is Sunday in Las Vegas.
In other Pacific Coast League action:
Cubs 5, Express 4 (11 innings)
Iowa avoided elimination for the second night in a row and will host a one-game showdown on Sunday. Jim Adduci led off the sixth inning with his first playoff homer and Jhonny Pereda added an RBI double to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead. But Round Rock got back-to-back RBI singles in the eighth from Jack Mayfield and Taylor Jones and the game remained tied into the 11th. After Ralph Garza walked the bases loaded, Phillip Evans won it with a sacrifice fly. Gameday box score