SALT LAKE CITY, Utah —Aces starter Tony Barnette was sharp in his Triple-A debut, striking out seven, but the Salt Lake Bees were too much on Opening Night at Spring Mobile Ballpark, defeating Reno 6-2 in the first game in Aces franchise history.
Salt Lake turned a slim 2-1 lead into a comfortable 5-1 margin after scoring three times in the sixth, and the Bees never looked back, earning the season-opening victory.
Joshua Whitesell led off the second inning with a clean single up the middle, the first hit in Aces history. He would be one of nine Aces left on base, as the team went 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Barnette (0-1) took the loss for Reno. The right-hander surrendered two runs on five hits over 4.1 innings pitched. Barnette walked just one and struck out seven in a 79-pitch effort. The win went to Bees starter Anthony Ortega (1-0), who scattered a run on four hits in five innings of work. Ortega struck out two and didn't walk a batter.
Barnette cruised in the early going, striking out the side in the second and punching out six through the first three innings.
"I thought Barnette threw the ball extremely well. He really only made one mistake," manager Brett Butler said. "For his first outing, coming out of the ballgame 2-1, giving us a chance, I think he did extremely well."
"We got the kinks out. The guys got their feet wet," continued Butler. "It was the first night, obviously we don't want to lose. I was satisfied with the evening."
In the third, though, Barnette's first walk of the evening came back to haunt him. With two away in the frame, Barnette issued a free pass to Salt Lake's Freddy Sandoval. That extended the inning for Sean Rodriguez, who singled sharply and chased home Bradley Coon to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Reno fired back in the top half of the fifth, though. Back-to-back doubles to right by Agustin Murillo and Rusty Ryal resulted in the first Aces run, knotting the score at 1-1. That first RBI in Aces history did not provide much comfort to Ryal after the game, however.
"Not when I left [five] guys on base and struck out three times," the third baseman said. "Nah, it's a good feeling, but I'd rather have had the double with the bases loaded. There's going to be adjustments we have to make; it's the first game."
The tie was short-lived. In the home half of the inning, Coon lined a 1-0 Barnette offering onto the berm in right field, a solo shot that put the lead back in the hands of Salt Lake. Coon's performance was particularly impressive, as he was one of Nick Adenhart's closest friends. Adenhart was killed Thursday along with two friends in a car crash instigated by a drunk driver. Thursday's opener was postponed one day, and an on-field tribute to Adenhart preceded Friday's game.
"The tribute was the hardest thing," said Coon, pausing a moment to collect himself. "I broke down out there. I talked to [Adenhart] the morning before he pitched. He told his dad, 'To be there tonight, something special was going to happen.'"
was ready, then they did the tribute to Nick," added shortstop Brandon Wood .
"You saw grown men get pretty emotional. We definitely needed yesterday to
mourn and cope."
In the sixth, Reno reliever Abe Woody failed to record an out, as Salt Lake strung together a double, triple and back-to-back singles to open the frame. All told, the Bees plated three runs and took a 5-1 lead. Both teams traded runs in the seventh, but Reno was never able to make a serious threat.
Hopefully, time will both heal emotional wounds for the Bees' players and nurture the Aces toward winning ways.
"I don't think there's anything negative to take away from tonight," Ryal said. "I think we got a good team here, we'll string some wins together."
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