Austin Balko scored twice and assisted on another goal as the El Paso Rhinos earned their 39th win of the season, beating the Texas Renegades, 6-2, Sunday afternoon.
Having already wrapped up its third consecutive regular season Mid-West Division championship, the Rhinos are working to keep up the intensity heading into the final six games of the regular season and did, though Texas played its best game of the three-game weekend series.
Though El Paso led after the first period, 3-1, the Renegades had equaled the Rhinos’ shot total – each team with nine shots on goal.
But El Paso broke through early as Nick Gorup beat Texas starting goaltender, Michael Pittman, at 4:42 of the first period.
Austin Balko then struck twice – scoring on the power play at 10:09 of the first, and again on a short-handed breakaway at 17:52 – to give El Paso the two-goal lead going into the intermission.
Eric LaBounty chipped his point-blank shot top shelf over a diving Pittman at 3:49 of the second period and Zach Goller scored on a nifty backhand at 16:59 to make it 5-2 Rhinos at the end of two periods.
Casey Lutz one-timed his shot off Austin Balko’s draw, beating Pittman at 13:41 of the third to round out the scoring.
Rhinos’ netminder Andrew Duff gets his 15th win, stopping 21 of 23 Texas shots. Though his goals-against average went up slightly, Duff still maintains a WSHL-best 1.40 GAA.
El Paso (38-3-1, 79 points) will take Super Bowl weekend off and will return to action at the Sierra Providence Events Center against the Colorado Outlaws, Friday, Feb. 6 through Sunday, Feb. 8.
For information and tickets, contact the Rhinos’ front office at 915.479.PUCK (7825) or head to the team website, www.elpasorhinos.com