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Hops start strong but can't hold on for win in home opener

by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Hops short stop Justin Gonzalez celebrates the first home run at the newly christened Ron Tonkin Field. The fans turned out in droves. The home team got hot early.

But in the end, the great start in the great atmosphere was not quite enough for the Hillsboro Hops, who blew a five-run first-inning lead and fell 8-6 to Salem-Keizer Wednesday evening in their home opener at Ron Tonkin Field.

“It’s never a bad night for a home opener, but we kind of wish we pulled through for the win,” said catcher Elvin Soto, who picked up his first RBI of the season plating his team’s fifth run.

The Volcanoes picked up scoring tallies in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, with the winning margin coming on a two-RBI double from Travious Relaford that Hops outfielders Taylor Ratliff and Grant Heyman appeared to lose in the lights and could not make a play on.

The loss snapped a solid four-game win streak for the Hops. They dropped to 4-2 and into a first-place tie in the Northwest League’s South Division with Boise. Salem-Keizer improved to 3-3.

Even in defeat, there were plenty of highlights for the home team, many of which came early.

In front of a record crowd of 4,853 – which was treated to a mild night perfect for baseball-watching – Hillsboro did not wait until the end of the game to get the fireworks going. Pedro Ruiz jump-started the offense on the first at-bat with a double to left field, and Justin Gonzalez, a shortstop out of Florida State, then blasted a two-run home run over the batter’s eye screen in center field to get the home faithful pumped.

“We got a guy on base, and I was just looking to drive him in, and I got a good pitch to do it with. It just happened to go over the fence,” Gonzalez said. “Just up there trying to do a job, and I was able to come through.”

A bit later in the order, Heyman, Nate Robertson and Soto delivered consecutive RBIs on a groundout, an infield single and a double to left field, respectively. Soto’s hit drove Volcanoes starter Andrew Leenhouts out of the game with just one out recorded.

Meanwhile, Hops starter Ben Eckels, who also started the team’s season opener in Everett on June 13, was sharp early but seemed to struggle with his control as his outing progressed. He gave up two runs in the third on a single and a sacrifice fly, and then gave up two more in the fourth on a bases-loaded ground rule double by Geno Escalante before yielding to John Pedrotty.

Pedrotty’s first batter, Shilo McCall, kept the rally going when he knocked a grounder to third base. The ball was fielded cleanly by Robertson, but his throw to first pulled Bennie Robinson off the bag and allowed another run to score, knotting the game up at 5-all.

The Volcanoes took the lead for good with another run in the next inning and two more in the seventh, which proved pivotal, especially after Todd Glaesmann pulled a run back for Hillsboro in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI double to right field that scored Gonzalez, who had reached on a single.

But the Hops couldn’t get any closer, even after Ratliff led off the ninth with a walk, as Ian Gardeck got Ruiz, Gonzalez and Glaesmann to all strike out swinging to end the contest.

Gonzalez, Glaesmann and Robertson paced the Hops with two hits each, and Gonzalez also had the two RBIs on that home run shot.

On the mound, Eckels gave up four runs on six hits and five walks while striking out five in 4.1 innings. Pedrotty took the loss, yielding three hits four runs and three walks, while Mike Cetta gave up just one hit and fanned four over the final two innings.

Salem-Keizer’s third of five pitchers, Eury Sanchez, picked up the win, and Gardeck earned the save.

The Hops host the Volcanoes again Thursday. First pitch is at 7:05 p.m. Ryan Doran (0-0, 1.50 ERA) is expected to get his second start for Hillsboro, while Jo Reyes (0-1, 3.60 ERA) is the likely Salem-Keizer starter.

If recent history can repeat itself, the Hops should be just fine. They blew a 3-1 lead against Everett during their season opener on June 13, losing 4-3, before taking the final four games of the series against the AquaSox.

“Tough loss. We’ll get them tomorrow,” Soto said. “This team, we lost one in Everett and came back and won four, so I’m not really too worried about these guys. They’re hungry.”



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