The Hops may not have started the second half of the season the way they wanted to, with a 13-1 home loss to Spokane, but they finished the first half in the best way possible — by winning it.
In spite of a 5-3 loss to the Spokane Indians Sunday night, Hillsboro clinched the Northwest League's South Division first-half championship with a little help from the Tri-City Dust Devils. Trailing the Hops by a game heading into Sunday's action, Eugene fell to the Dust Devils 4-0, punching the Hops' ticket to the NWL playoffs later this season.
With the first-half win, the Hops clinched a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season, with 2013 being the last time they failed to play in the postseason. They'll be playing for their third NWL championship in the past four years.
Despite wrapping up the first half, the Hops ended a week which included a seven-game win streak with three consecutive losses to the Indians as they head out of town for a six-game road trip at Boise and Eugene.
Here's a snapshot of the week that was:
July 19 — Hillsboro 6, Vancouver 0
Hillsboro used six early runs and a strong pitching performance from Tyler Keele to complete a five-game sweep of their NWL rivals north of the border.
Keele threw five innings of one-hit shutout baseball before leaving after five due to illness, and offensively the Hops were led by second baseman Camden Duzenack and right fielder Bryan Araiza, who each had two hits. Yan Sanchez drove in two for the Hops, including a sacrifice fly in the first inning that plated Duzenack.
Hillsboro's bullpen showed out again, with relievers Matt Peacock and Rafael Pujols allowing no runs on just two hits over the final four innings, striking out four with no base-on-balls.
July 20 — Hillsboro 6, Spokane 5
After falling behind after allowing five fifth-inning runs, the Hops scored three runs over the last three innings, including two in the bottom of the ninth when Tra Holmes singled in Drew Ellis to nip the Indians and win their sixth consecutive game.
With no one on base and two outs in the ninth, Pavin Smith singled to center, Ellis drew a walk and Camden Duzenack singled in Smith to set up Holmes' walk-off hit. It was the fourth such hit of the season for the Hops, and with the victory Hillsboro secured sole possession of first place in the Northwest League's South Division.
Hillsboro was led at the plate by Smith, who continued his torrid stretch, going 4-for-5 with two doubles, four runs scored and an RBI.
Hops closer Erbert Gonzalez pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the win.
July 21 — Hillsboro 15, Spokane 0
Sometimes it's just your night.
For the second time in four games the Hops eclipsed 15 runs when they parlayed 14 hits into a 15-0 shutout win for their seventh straight victory, and second over the Spokane Indians in the first two of a five-game set. Hillsboro scored one in the first, five in the third and six in the fifth before tacking on three more in the eighth for good measure.
The Hops were led by Eudy Ramos and Bryan Araiza, who combined for six hits and seven RBIs. But not to be outdone, Tra Holmes, Connor Owings and Ryan Grotjohn each tallied two hits, with Grotjohn driving in four.
Overshadowed by the offensive explosion was Connor Grey's seven shutout innings, which included six strikeouts and no walks. It was Grey's fifth win of the season and lowered his ERA to 3.23.
July 22 — Spokane 11, Hillsboro 4
All good things eventually come to an end.
The Hops entered Saturday night's affair looking for a franchise-tying record eighth consecutive win, but Spokane had other ideas and made their intentions known with 10 runs in the first four innings, including three home runs, two by left fielder Austin O'Banion.
Hillsboro looked lethargic from the get-go, and starting pitcher Riley Smith, who hadn't allowed more than two runs in six straight starts, allowed eight earned runs in three-and-a-third innings, giving up nine hits while striking out five and walking one.
Yan Sanchez and Dan Swain led the Hops with two hits apiece, and Swain finished with two doubles and two RBIs.
Spokane's Melvin Novoa was hit in three separate at-bats, the last of which led to the benches and bullpens clearing before the umpires restored order.
July 23 — Spokane 5, Hillsboro 3
The Hops, who'd won seven straight before Saturday night's loss to Spokane, fell in consecutive nights thanks to a somewhat failed attempt at a pitcher-by-committee approach that used five pitchers, none of which threw more than two-and-two-thirds innings.
Brian Shaffer started the game and allowed one run on three hits before being replaced to start the third by Mitchell Aker. Aker was one of four relievers that surrendered four runs, the last of which supplied the visiting Indians with the cushion necessary to fend off a late Hillsboro rally.
The Hops were led by Ellis who finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs and first baseman Pavin Smith, who improved his season average to .359 while going 2-for-3 with a double and two walks.
Aker took the loss for Hillsboro despite allowing just a single run on one hit.
July 24 – Spokane 13, Hillsboro 1
The Hops didn't start the second half of the season the best way possible.
It was a forgettable night for Hillsboro as Spokane blew the Hops out in the deciding game of their five-game series — and in the process took the season series from first-half winners. The Indians' Yonny Hernandez reached base five times, including his first professional home run, while scoring four runs and driving in three.
Hillsboro starting pitcher Tyler Keele, who'd dominated Spokane in the teams' last meeting, gave up six runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and a walk over four innings. The Hops got their only run in the first inning when Ryan Grotjohn scored on a Camden Duzenack fielder's choice after doubling to start the inning.
Three Hops made their Hillsboro debut in the game, including second baseman Ryan Tufts, center fielder Jorge Perez and relief pitcher Yeison Santana.