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Hops, Dust Devils will play Sunday for NWL title

COURTESY: MOLLY J. SMITH/HILLSBORO HOPS - Dansby Swanson of the Hillsboro Hops speeds to first base during Saturday's Northwest League playoff game at Tri-City.PASCO, Wash. — Northwest League baseball players are quite young, so it seemed only appropriate when Hillsboro Hops manager Shelley Duncan told his players a bedtime story before they headed to the team hotel Saturday night.

After Tri-City’s comeback, 4-2 victory, which forced a third and final game in the Northwest League championship series Sunday at Gesa Stadium (7:15 p.m., KPOJ 620 AM), Duncan gathered his players around him in the cramped visitors dressing room. The Hops had gone scoreless after the first inning and given up two costly runs late in the game, so Duncan spoke to his young troops about delivering the goods at crunch time.

“How to handle big situations in big games,” Duncan explained later in the coaches’ office. “It took me a long time to figure it out. The ability to slow down the game.”

Duncan, a journeyman major league player from 2007-13, told players about his key hit for the New York Yankees in the 2007 American League Division Series against Cleveland. Duncan, a 27-year-old rookie at the time, came through with fans chanting his name at Yankee Stadium.

“He said he was going up to the plate, and his knees were shaking,” Hops designated hitter Grant Heyman said. “He was all nervous.

“He just stepped out of the box, took a deep breath, soaked up the moment. He was a better hitter when he got all the adrenaline out and just played the game. That was his message for us.”

Will the message help Sunday night?

“I absolutely do think it will help,” Heyman said.

The Hops need all the help they can get at the plate, because they’ve scored just two runs in each of the two playoff games with Tri-City. Hillsboro posted the best record in the Northwest League in the regular season (45-31), but the Hops relied on the league’s best pitching staff to make up for the league’s worst offense.

Heyman doubled in a run and scored on Alexis Olmeda’s single in the first inning Saturday, but the Hops managed just three hits the rest of the way. Four relievers shut out Hillsboro after Tri-City starter Emmanuel Ramirez lasted just one inning.

“Tri-City played real good baseball,” Heyman said. “They’re in the championship with us for a reason.” 

“It’s a really good team we’re playing,” Duncan said. “They do all the little things right. They play solid defense. They throw strikes. They execute. They’re fundamentally (sound).

“You really have to be playing your best baseball in order to beat them, especially when their backs are against the wall, like they were tonight. We made a couple mistakes in situational hitting, (threw) a couple bad pitches here and there that they took advantage of.”

Both teams left eight men on base, but Hillsboro’s stranded runners were more glaring. The Hops left men at third base in the first, fifth and sixth innings, and at second base in the second, sixth and ninth innings. A leadoff triple by Zach Nehir in the fifth and a leadoff double by Stephen Dezzi in the ninth went for naught when neither player advanced.

“We let this game get away from us,” Heyman said. “We left some guys on base. That can’t happen. But it was a hard-fought game by both teams.”

Tri-City got a run back in the bottom of the first when Cody Reed walked leadoff batter Justin Pacchioli, who scored on Henry Charles’ two-out single to center. The Dust Devils forged a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning (Reed’s final inning) when DH Nick Vilter led off with a homer to left.

Losing pitcher Breckin Williams gave up three singles and the game-winning run in the seventh inning, with Pacchioli driving in Austin Allen with two out. Allen had coaxed a leadoff walk.

The following inning, Ty France led off with a single and scored on Vilter’s single up the middle with — you guessed it — two out.

A crowd of 1,497, including a couple dozen Hillsboro supporters, enjoyed an entertaining contest on a steamy night in the desert.

The Dust Devils, who tied Everett for the second-best record in the regular season (42-24), saw their eight-game winning streak snapped when they bowed 2-1 at Hillsboro on Thursday night. Tri-City has won seven consecutive home games, but that streak may be in dire jeopardy.

Duncan saved right-hander Carlos Hernandez (6-3, 2.32), voted the league’s most valuable pitcher by NWL managers, for the title game. Tri-City counters with southpaw Jose Castillo (3-1, 3.61), just back from the Class A Midwest League. Hernandez led the Northwest League in ERA.

“I always feel really confident when he’s going on the mound,” Duncan said. “He’s had a great year.”

“He’s a great pitcher,” Heyman said. “He has great stuff. Plays real well under pressure.

“But,” Heyman added, “we don’t want to put all that pressure on him. We’re going to go out there and give him some run support and hopefully give him a lead to work with. I think if you give him a couple runs, I think it’s going to be a really tough game for Tri-Cities to win.”

The Dust Devils like their chances. Tri-City had the best home record in the league in the regular season (25-13), and the Dust Devils have split 12 games with Hillsboro this summer. Also, Hernandez struggled in both his appearances against Tri-City, going 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA.

“Momentum is on our side right now, and we’ve got the crowd behind us,” Tri-City manager Anthony Contreras said. “It’s going to be a good game.

“I didn’t expect any of these games to be blowouts. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. Hopefully, the result goes in our favor.”





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