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Spartans off to hot start


Hillsboro moves into a tie for first place with three victories in its first four league games

It’s still early, but two series into Pacific Conference play, Hillsboro has put itself in a pretty good spot.

In the seven-day span from April 2 through this past Monday, the Spartans went 3-1 against Forest Grove and Newberg. That mark was good enough to put Hilhi in a tie for first place with McMinnville and Tualatin through four games.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hillsboro senior Vinny Gordy delivers a pitch last Wednesday during a 7-6 Pacific Conference victory against Forest Grove.

On April 2, Hillsboro pounded Forest Grove 15-6 on the road before coming from behind for a 7-6 victory the following day at Hare Field. The Spartans then closed out the week with a 7-5 loss to Newberg at Hillsboro Stadium. But Hilhi rebounded with a breezy 10-2 win on the Tigers’ field on Monday.

“We took care of business against Forest Grove,” Hillsboro coach Matt Bailie recalled. “We came out that first game and hammered them pretty good … and then the next one was kind of the opposite. We had to come back in bottom the seventh and (Jack) Merrill was able to get an RBI double there to win the game.”

In that first game, the Hilhi offense pounded the Vikings’ pitching staff for 17 hits. Austin Lutheran-Burt led the way by going 4-for-5 at the plate, scoring two runs and adding an RBI on a double. On the pitcher’s mound, Merrill allowed eight hits in five innings of work while striking out three and yielding four walks.

The second game was a much closer affair, with the Spartans trailing going into the final inning. After taking a 4-0 lead after two innings, Hilhi gave up five runs while scoring just one in the next two to deadlock the game at 5-5.

The Vikings scored once more in the top of the sixth, but Clayton Vandervelden scored to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, setting the stage for Merrill’s heroics. Lauden Lusey and Damon Peters recorded two hits apiece and Vinny Gordy picked up the win.

“When you beat a team by 10 runs the day before, you know that they’re going to come back the next day and you just ... gotta find a new way to get it done, and we did that day,” Bailie said.

Against Newberg, rain wiped away a solid start for the Spartans in their first game. They were up 2-0 through one-and-a-half innings last Friday, but the game was halted due to rain. After play resumed on Saturday, the Tigers responded by scoring four runs in the third inning, one in the fourth and two more in the sixth. Hilhi ace Chase Kaplan started the game on Friday and tried to continue pitching on Saturday but had to yield to Gordy, who took the loss.

“Vinny Gordy’s been pitching great for us all year, so he got out there and kind of kept us in the game,” Bailie recalled. “But it was one of those days where we weren’t able to find the holes and hit the ball well.”

The Spartans did rally with a three-run seventh, but they could not complete the comeback when the game ended on what Bailie described as a tight call at first base.

“Too much fight a little too late,” Bailie said.

But his squad responded to its first loss in conference play beautifully on Monday and upped its overall record to 9-4.

Stefanos Panayiotou and Kaplan pounded Newberg’s Cole Miller — a returning first team all-conference pitcher — for three-run home runs in the third inning to stake Hilhi to what would prove to be an insurmountable lead.

“We put a six-spot up in the blink of an eye on their No. 1 guy, and from that point on we had the confidence,” Bailie said.

After Newberg scored twice in the bottom of the sixth, Hilhi added four more runs in the top of the seventh — including another home run from Panayiotou — to ice the game. Merrill was solid on the mound in a complete-game effort and gave up just five hits.

“We got a lot of guys returning. They know what league play is about,” Bailie said. “They know that they need to be focused for seven innings. They’re just having a good time. We’re trying to keep them nice and loose, and they’ve been playing very well.”

The Spartans were scheduled to play their final two-game conference series of the season Wednesday and Thursday against Century (after press deadline). Their first three-game series is slated for next week against McMinnville. Hillsboro will host the Grizzlies at Hare Field on Tuesday and Friday and play at McMinnville on Wednesday. All three games have 5 p.m. starts.