Hillsboro takes four of five from Tri-City to stay in playoff hunt

The Hops are getting down to it now.

Since play resumed Aug. 8 after the all-star break, Hillsboro has gone 4-2 and matched a franchise record with a three-game win streak.

But the squad dropped a 3-0 decision to Salem-Keizer on Tuesday night in a pivotal South Division matchup to begin a three-game series against the Volcanoes. The Salem-Keizer opener kicked off a series of games that will prove critical for the Hops’ Northwest League playoff hopes. The team now needs a solid run of play in the stretch to catch the Volcanoes and win the second-half standings, the necessary outcome for Hillsboro to qualify for the playoffs.

Results of Wednesday’s and Thursday’s contests were not available at press HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hillsboro Hops first baseman George Roberts makes a throw to pitcher Ross Gerdeman, who is covering first base, during Monday's 2-0 victory over the Tri-City Dust Devils.

“It comes down to clutch hitting,” said Ryan Kinsella, who played the role of designated hitter in Tuesday’s game. “Unfortunately, it didn’t come through tonight. It happens in baseball. Pitchers, they’ve carried us tonight. They’ve been carrying us most of the season. We just need to pick them up and we didn’t do a good job of that. Also, Salem-Keizer threw the ball real well tonight.”

The loss dropped Hillsboro to 10-9 in the second-half season standings, three games behind the Volcanoes (13-6) and a game back of Boise in the South Division. The team’s overall record through Tuesday was 21-36.

The Hops were never out of Tuesday’s contest, but as Kinsella mentioned, the bats did not come through when they were most needed. Hillsboro advanced runners to second and third base multiple times on the night, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine baserunners.

“We just need to do a better job at coming out with a little more intensity,” said Kinsella, a first-year pro out of Elon University in North Carolina. “(We) came out a little flat tonight and need to jump on them early.”

In terms of production, the Volcanoes managed 11 hits but were not exactly sterling themselves about scoring. They recoded a run each in the second, third and ninth innings. The first run came on a two-out RBI single to center field by Shilo McCall off of Hillsboro starter Aaron Blair to score Blake Miller, who had doubled in the previous at-bat.

Salem-Keizer doubled its lead in the next inning on back-to-back doubles by Ryan Jones and Jeremy Sy. The final tally came in Leonardo Rojas’ at-bat, during which Cesar Carrasco and Ryan Gebhardt recorded fielding and throwing errors, respectively, and Ryan Jones scored on the play.

The Hops proved their most dangerous — but not dangerous enough — in the heart of the game. In the fourth, Brian Billegen drew a walk from Salem-Keizer starter Chase Johnson and then advanced to second on a passed ball before stealing third. But a George Roberts groundout ended the inning.

Then, in the sixth, seventh and eighth, the Hops got off to great starts by putting their leadoff batter on base. But in the sixth and seventh, that runner was called out at second on the next play, negating those opportunities. The Hops did load the bases in the sixth when Yogey Perez-Ramos walked, but Roberts hit into another groundout. In the eighth, the Hops had Taylor Ratliff and Billigen on second and third with one out, but consecutive groundouts by Roberts and Carrasco ended that threat.

Meanwhile, the Hops bullpen was doing its part to keep the home team in the game.

Yoimer Camacho, who recently rejoined the Hops after spending time at the Arizona Diamondback’s Class A affiliate in South Bend, Ind., came on in the fifth for two innings of scoreless relief. Patrick Smith went 1 2/3 innings, also scoreless, before yielding to J.R. Bradley, who gave up that unearned run in the ninth.

“I knew if I kept our guys in the game we’d have a shot to win it, because as of late, we’ve been having timely hitting,” Smith said. “The guys are starting to feel good at the plate, so I knew if I could keep them in it, then we’d have a shot to win. But things didn’t work out, so we’ll go out and try again tomorrow.”

Blair threw four innings and picked up the loss to move to 1-1 on the year. He gave up six runs and two hits while striking out three. Hillsboro had six hits — all singles — in the loss, with Randy McCurry going 2-for-4 to lead the offense.

Despite Tuesday’s loss, the homestand was shaping up as one of the best of the season for the Hops. They started the Tri-City series with three consecutive wins (3-2, 15-4, 6-3) to match their best streak of the season. And after dropping a 2-0 loss to the Dust Devils on Sunday, the Hops responded with a 2-0 victory of their own on Monday, making the series the first in which they have gone 4-1 this season. Additionally, that 15-run outing on Aug. 9 was the highest of the season.

And overall so far, Hillsboro has been much improved since the halfway mark. The Hops needed 19 games to get to 10 wins in the second half. Comparatively, they did not reach the 10-victory mark in the first half until July 19 — 35 games into the season.

The pitchers have continued to play a factor in the second-half success, Kinsella noted, and the hitting has been picking up.

“The hitters, we’re finally getting adjusted to the game,” he said. “We had a bunch of new guys come in. All of us seem to be adjusting pretty well, too. It took some time, but now we’re starting to hit the ball a little bit better this half. We hit the ball great against Tri-City, I think.”

Kinsella pointed out the plate work of Perez-Ramos and Roberts in particular in the Dust Devils series. Perez-Ramos, whose .332 batting average through Tuesday was second-best in the league, hit 7-for-18 (.389) with five runs scored and three RBIs in that series. Roberts, who has provided a steady presence at first base for the team, went 4-for-5 with a three-run home run in that Aug. 9 scoring fest. (He went deep the day before as well.)

In Roberts’ 10-game run through Tuesday, the Kent State product was batting .308, and his season average of .257 was second-best on the team behind Perez-Ramos.

“First half we had some days where you could definitely tell that the mood was down in the clubhouse,” Smith said. “Now that we’re playing better, everybody’s having fun. It is a mood change when you’re winning.

“We’re always going to compete whether we win or lose, but the mood definitely shifts in the clubhouse when you’re either in contention or you’re winning, so it’s a lot better.”

Thursday’s contest concluded an eight-game homestand for the Hops, who will be on the road through next Friday. The team starts the first of a five-game series at Spokane at 6:30 p.m. tonight. After wrapping up that series on Tuesday, the Hops will then be at Eugene for three games.

Hillsboro returns home on Aug. 24 for its final home games of the season, three-contest stints against Boise and Eugene.

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