Quick-starting Quad-Cities left no doubt.
The River Bandits grabbed an early 8-0 lead and never let go Friday, advancing to the Western Division championship series in the Midwest League playoffs by winning the deciding game of a three-game series against Peoria 8-5 at Modern Woodmen Park.
“When we got down 1-0 in this series, I knew we weren’t done. There’s no quit in this team,’’ said Josh Rojas, who belted the first of three River Bandits home runs which sent Quad-Cities on its way to the win over the Chiefs.
The River Bandits will host Cedar Rapids tonight in the first game of the best-of-three division finals, with the second and, if necessary, third games of the series played on the Kernels’ home field on Sunday and Monday.
As Rojas, Abraham Toro-Hernandez and Chuckie Robinson drove balls out of the park in the first four innings, River Bandits starter Patrick Sandoval was plowing his way through the Peoria lineup.
The lefthander scattered three hits over 6.2 innings, striking out six batters In a start which began with five hitless innings.
“We wanted to establish the fastball outside early and that seemed to keep their hitters off balance,’’ Sandoval said. “When they started to make some contact in the fifth or sixth inning, we made some adjustments.’’
By then, the damage had been done.
Quad-Cities scored four runs in the second inning, the first two on a homer to right by Rojas which followed an infield single by Robinson.
Toro-Hernandez followed the same flight plan and the back-to-back homers left the Chiefs in a 3-0 hole which grew to 4-0 on a single by Colin Moran that ended Anthony Shew’s start.
“It was the type of start we wanted,’’ Rojas said. “The whole idea the past two days was to just come out and have fun. I don’t think any of us felt any pressure. We just played ball.’’
Before Robinson homered with one out in the fourth, Quad-Cities had tacked three more runs onto its lead in the third. The first scored on a J.J. Matijevic single and the last two came when Chas McCormick reached on a single and advanced on an error.
“When our hitters have it going like that, it gives you all the confidence in the world,’’ Sandoval said. “You just want to put the hitters down in order so you can go back in and watch those guys hit. It was a lot of fun.’’
The River Bandits collected all but one of their nine hits in the first four innings and before the Chiefs managed their first hit of the night.
“We jumped on them pretty quickly. Two big innings and then Chuckie with his homer, it was the kind of start we hoped for,’’ Quad-Cities manager Russ Steinhorn said. “That’s 12 runs in two games and all but one of them were from guys who have been here. Everybody contributed again, and that’s when we’ve been at our best.’’
Peoria didn’t manage a hit off of Sandoval until Brian O’Keefe made contact in the fifth inning and made it count.
The Chiefs’ only baserunner until that point after reaching on a second-inning walk negated by a double play, O’Keefe cut into the River Bandits’ eight-run lead when he launched a one-out solo homer to right.
Peoria added a run in the sixth on a double by Kramer Robertson and bunched together five singles in the eighth to pull within three runs.
“Fortunately, we had enough of a cushion to get through it and finish it off,’’ Steinhorn said.