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Hillsboro regroups after a tough loss to Spokane and looks ahead to the second half of the baseball season

They have a long way to go, but perhaps the Hillsboro Hops will look back at Monday’s game as a turning point.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hillsboro Hops shortstop Ryan Gebhardt fields a throw as Spokane's Ryan Cordell attempts to steal second base on Monday during the teams' Northwest League baseball game.

Hitting the end of an eight-game homestand at Hillsboro Ballpark and the halfway point of the season, the Hops were cruising along with a 3-1 advantage over the Spokane Indians until the wheels fell off in the seventh inning.

Big time.

Hillsboro allowed a staggering nine runs — including a two-out grand slam by Janluis Castro — in that stanza on its way to an 11-3 defeat and a Northwest League-worst 11-27 mark at the halfway point of the season.

After the defeat, Hillsboro players and coaches withdrew to the locker room for a lengthy team meeting and emerged perhaps dispirited but also looking toward the second half of the season.

“Obviously, we didn’t play up to our potential the first half,” outfielder Jordan Parr said afterward. “One thing that our managers have done a good job of is they’ve stayed supportive and they’ve kept us going, kept us working hard. It’s not always easy from their position because they can’t go out there and play.

“But they’ve done a great job. They’re here battling every single day, and I think that says a lot about their character and how bad they want it as well. Tomorrow’s the new season, the start of the second half, and if we win the second half, we qualify (for the league playoffs), so that’s obviously the new goal.”

The defeat put a damper on what had been a pretty respectable homestand for the Hops. They dropped all three games against Boise but responded with two consecutive wins last Thursday and Friday against Spokane — the team’s first winning streak of the year.

Then Sunday, Yogey Perez-Ramos — who seems to be becoming a fan favorite with that name of his — capped a 6-5 comeback victory with a walk-off RBI double to drive in Brian Billigen in the 13th inning. That win ensured the Hops of their first five-game series victory of the summer.

So yes, that seventh on Monday was a clunker of an inning, no doubt. Ben Eckels and Chase Stevens combined to cough up four hits and five walks for those nine runs, which might be what Hops fans remember for quite some time.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hillsboro Hops shortstop Ryan Gebhardt goes airborne to field a grounder with his bare hand during Monday's game against Spokane. Gebhardt drove in all three of the Hops' runs in an 11-3 setback.

“If you can avoid the big inning, then you win a lot of games,” shortstop Ryan Gebhardt said.

Though the Hops could not dodge it that night, there have been some signs of life of late. On Monday at catcher, Yosbel Gutierrez made a couple of heads-up plays, careening into the netting behind home plate to track down a pop fly in foul territory and pushing the umpire out of the way to get to a wild pitch and pick off an Indians baserunner trying to steal third.

And Hillsboro’s bats might finally be getting going. The Hops have struggled all season with not getting enough hits — and not enough of them strung together at the right times — but they are getting better.

A few weeks ago, the team’s batting average was below .220, but the squad had upped it to .234 going into Wednesday night’s game at Salem-Keizer.

Perez-Ramos has had something to do with that, raising his batting average above .300 in recent weeks.

After going through a bit of a slump, slugger Zach Esquerra seems to be evening out at the plate. Through Tuesday, he had recorded hits in six consecutive games and eight of the past 10.

Meanwhile, third baseman Cesar Carrasco has provided instant offense since being called up from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Arizona League affiliate, going 8-for-24 in his first six games with the Hops.

And some of his teammates who were less likely to help the team out on offense earlier in the season are starting to come through at the plate.

Gebhardt is a good example of that. He accounted for all of his team’s runs on Monday. His two-RBI ground-rule double in the second was not all that far from clearing the center field fence without the bounce, and he added a sacrifice fly in the fourth.

“I was just concentrating on getting back to the basics, and it ended up working out,” he said.

Going into the game, the Louisiana native had just six RBIs all season. In fact, for the three weeks from July 1 through Monday, Gebhardt increased his batting average from .183 to .248. Monday’s bounty gave him nine RBIs for the year, and for good measure, he added another in the Hops’ 9-6 win on Tuesday at Salem-Keizer.

As for that win against Salem-Keizer, you can’t read too much into one game, but that victory was the first the Hops had scored in seven tries against the Volcanoes, who went 23-15 over the first half of the season, tying Everett for the best record in the league.

The Hops could use a few more successes like that.

“This is a hard game to be successful at, but you know, that’s what we’re working on, is being consistent, being good,” Parr said. “I think there’s some good things in store for the second half.”

Note: The Hops return to Hillsboro Ballpark today with a rare weekday afternoon start time. The five-game series against Everett kicks off at 1:35 p.m. First pitch on Sunday is slated for 5:35, and Saturday, Monday and Tuesday begin at 7:05. After that, the Hops travel to Vancouver for five games and return home for eight games starting July 8.

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