Dominant in the regular season, Pedro Payano remained so in his first playoff start for Class A Hickory.
The right-handed Texas prospect scattered six hits and struck out eight over six scoreless innings in the Crawdads' 7-2 victory over Asheville in Game 1 of the best-of-5 South Atlantic League Championship Series.
From the final batter in the first inning to the leadoff man in the third, Payano struck out six in a row.
"I had trust in all of my pitches," he said through translator and Hickory pitching coach Oscar Marin. "The one thing I tried to focus on was repeating my delivery and making everything look the same. I was especially confident with my curveball tonight and was able to change speeds."
The 20-year-old native of the Dominican Republic went 10-2 with a 1.11 ERA over 17 appearances on three different circuits during the season. He was 3-1 with a 1.10 ERA in six appearances -- five starts -- for the Crawdads. Monday marked his first 2015 postseason start, but he picked up the win last September in the Dominican Summer League Rangers' title-clinching victory.
"This was one of my biggest games, but that experience helped me tonight," Payano said.
He allowed singles to Colorado's No. 6 prospect Forrest Wall and Shane Hoelscher to start the fourth, but Wall was caught stealing third. Payano struck out Rockies' No. 15 prospect Dom Nunez, then gave up another hit to Roberto Ramos, but fanned Max White to get out of trouble.
"That risky move completely turned things around for me," Payano said. "My confidence went up. It was a little bit of a sigh of relief, but I still had to make pitches."
Hickory opened the scoring with back-to-back doubles by Edwin Garcia and Rangers' No. 22 prospect Jairo Beras to start the bottom of the second. Luke Tendler smacked a solo homer to right field in the fourth.
In the sixth, Asheville starter Helmis Rodriguez issued walks to Texas' No. 26 prospect Jose Trevino and Tendler. After a forceout, Tendler scored on a sacrifice fly by Beras. Then left fielder Eduard Pinto, who started the inning with a diving catch, smacked an RBI double to center.
In the eighth, Trevino plated a run with an RBI single to center and Tendler followed with a run-scoring double. Beras tripled in Tendler to cap Hickory's scoring.
Joe Filomeno allowed one hit over two scoreless innings of relief, and Dillon Tate extended the Crawdads' scoreless streak to 21 1/3 innings before a ninth-inning homer by Hoelscher.
Game 2 will be Tuesday at Hickory.