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First-half pennant race heats up


Hillsboro's division lead shrinks to one game with a week left in the first half of the season

 - Hillsboro first baseman Bennie Robinson takes a swing during the Hops' Northwest League game against Tri-City on Monday. Robinson drove in a run during Hillsboro's 2-0 victory.This one might be going down to the wire.

With the halfway mark of the season and a possible berth in the Northwest League playoffs looming, the pitching was there but the bats were not on Tuesday for the Hillsboro Hops in a 4-1 defeat at Ron Tonkin Field.

Hillsboro starter Ryan Doran held the Tri-City Dust Devils to just two scores — both on solo home runs — deep into the seventh inning, but a sleepy offense could not come through in front of a crowd of 2,665.

The Hops had won four of their last five outings prior to Tuesday’s contest to stay atop the South Division, but they fell to 19-13 with the loss, their grip on first place in a tenuous spot.

That is due partly to a surge by the Boise Hawks, who were a sizzling 8-2 in their most recent 10 games through Tuesday. They earned a 4-3 win against league-leading Spokane that night, allowing them to creep within a game of Hillsboro at 18-14 with six days of play remaining in the first half.

For much of his outing, Doran went toe to toe first with Dust Devil starter Ryan Castellani — a second-round pick this year out of Brophy Jesuit Prep in Arizona — and then reliever Jerad McCrummen, who came on in the fourth.

But Tri-City (12-20) finally caught up with Doran in the sixth, when Sean Dwyer knocked him for a two-out solo shot to right field. Dillon Thomas then went yard to left field to start the seventh, putting the home team in a 2-0 hole.

“I was getting ahead of them early. They started to make an adjustment,” said Doran, who moved to 2-3 on the season. “Even the home run was a first pitch. He kind of ambushed the fastball. The other guy I think was a second-pitch fastball. I felt like I made good pitches just trying to go after them, be aggressive, trying to keep my pitch count down.”

The starter holding the opposition to only two runs has often been plenty for Hillsboro to work with this season, but the Hops managed just three hits over the first six innings. Tri-City tacked on its third run of the game on a triple by Drew Weeks off of Mike Cetta in the seventh before Hillsboro answered in the bottom half.

With one out and runners on second and third, Pedro Ruiz hit into a fielder’s choice at third base to score Tyler Baker. Ruiz then moved to third base on two wild pitches by William Waltrip, but the Dust Devil induced a ground out from Justin Gonzalez to keep the Hops at one run.

“Hitting-wise, we were hitting it hard, just kind of right at people,” said Baker, one of two Hops to record two hits in the game, along with Jake Mayers.

After the visitors added a run in the eighth, the Hops looked like they might have a rally in them in the ninth. George Roberts singled with one out and Parr singled with two to put runners on, but Ruiz popped up to center field to end the threat and the game.

The result leaves Hillsboro in the thick of a tight playoff race. The first-half winners of both the North and South Divisions will lock up berths in the league playoffs to be staged at the end of the regular season. The cutoff date for the first half is for games through Monday.

“We’ve just got to keep playing the way we’ve been playing, and hopefully they lose a couple games here or there to give us more cushion,” Baker said. “We’ve been pitching good, hitting good, so we just gotta keep doing what we’re doing, honestly.”

The Hops have seen plenty of highlights over the past week or so:

• They exploded for 19 hits and nine runs last Thursday in a 9-3 victory at Boise. Six players in Hillsboro’s lineup recorded two hits or more. Steve Nyisztor was an impressive 5-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs, while Jordan Parr went 3-for-5 with a run scored and Roberts added two RBIs. The Hops trailed 3-2 before putting up four runs in the sixth inning and three more in the eighth. Doran picked up his second win of the season, giving up 11 hits and three earned runs — all in the fourth — in six innings of work.

• Hillsboro went 2-1 in a home-and-away series against Salem-Keizer last Friday through Monday. The Hops used a four-run eighth inning to come back against the Volcanoes in that Friday game. The team got RBI singles from Roberts and Nate Robertson (two runs), and Elvin Soto scored on a wild pitch to account for the runs that inning. Nick Baker earned the win after relieving starter Austin Platt, and Zac Curtis picked up his seventh save with a scoreless ninth.

• The team opened its five-game series against Tri-City Monday with a 2-0 victory in which starter Ben Eckels fanned 11 batters over seven innings. Dustin Loggins gave up two hits the rest of the way for his first save. Grant Heyman and Cribbs picked up two hits each. Heyman scored on a throwing error in the fourth, and Bennie Robinson accounted for the game’s only RBI in the sixth with a groundout that plated Heyman a second time.

• Two days later, this time on the road, the Hops scored three runs in the eighth to rally for a 7-5 victory against the Volcanoes. Hillsboro sealed the comeback on sacrifice flies by Galli Cribbs and Soto, plus a bases-loaded walk by Nyisztor. Soto went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI, and Robinson had two hits and two RBIs. Cody Geyer picked up the win as the fourth Hop to make an appearance in the game, and Curtis earned another save.

• Parr kept a couple of nice streaks going in Tuesday’s game, reaching base on a force out in the first and picking up a single in the ninth. That meant that the outfielder had recorded a hit in eight consecutive games, going 13-for-32 (.406) in that span, and had reached base safely in 23 consecutive games. Parr was batting .299 through Tuesday with 26 hits, 13 runs, seven RBIs and 12 walks.

• On Sunday in Minneapolis, former Hop Braden Shipley played in the All-Star Futures Game, an annual exhibition staged as part of the MLB all-star festivities that showcases top up-and-coming talent. A 6-foot-3 right-hander out of Roseburg, Shipley threw 2/3 of a scoreless inning, and his USA squad beat the World team 3-2. After being drafted in the first round last year by Arizona, Shipley made eight appearances in Hillsboro before being promoted to Class A South Bend (Ind.). He started this season back with the Silver Hawks before being bumped up to the Class A Advanced Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide.

• Another Hillsboro alum rapidly climbing Arizona’s minor league ranks is Aaron Blair, a 2013 first-round draft pick from Marshall. A 6-5 righty, Blair was recently promoted to the Class AA Mobile (Ala.) BayBears. Blair was 1-1 in Hillsboro with a 2.90 ERA last year before moving on to South Bend, where he started this season before joining the Rawhide and now the BayBears. Mobile’s roster includes former Hops Todd Glaesmann and Jimmie Sherfy, a closer out of Oregon who appeared briefly in Hillsboro last year.

• Brent Jones appears to be following in Blair and Shipley’s footsteps The 6-3 right-hander out of Cornell went 2-1 in six starts for the Hops. He was recently promoted to South Bend, bringing Kyle Anderson to Hillsboro.

Hillsboro wraps up its homestand agaist Tri-City tonight and then hits the road for eight games, three in Eugene and then five in Vancouver. The Hops return home July 27 for three games against Boise.