Hillsboro wins both halves of the NWL season to earn the team's first-ever playoff berth
Even at the end of the season, the firsts keep coming for the Hillsboro Hops.
Over the course of the summer, Hops fans have been treated to all manner of them: first half champions, first playoff berth in Hillsboro, first grand slam, first place in the league.
On Monday, the fans witnessed another one, as the Hops went off for four runs in the fourth inning to erase a 1-0 deficit en route to a 7-3 victory against Eugene.
After 1-0 and 7-1 victories the previous two nights against the Emeralds, the win provided the team with its first home series sweep in Hillsboro. The Hops also ended the regular season on a four-game win streak and with the best record in the Northwest League at 48-28, two games better than Vancouver.
And for good measure, the team took the NWL second half title to complement its first half crown. Hillsboro finished the second half at 26-12, six games ahead of Salem-Keizer in the South Division. That record was also four games better than the 22-16 mark Hillsboro recorded to win the first half.
On the heels of an eight-game win streak in August, the Hops closed the regular season on a 5-1 run, with the only loss in that span a 5-2 setback at Tri-City on Aug. 28. That was only a blip, though, as the team also secured three one-run victories in that span to secure the second-half title.
The first came Aug. 27, when the Hops beat the Dust Devils 3-2 by getting single tallies in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings for a 3-2 win after going down 2-0 through four innings. Steve Nyisztor accounted for the winning margin by blasting a home run to left field while leading off the ninth.
Felipe Lopez gave up seven hits and two runs in six frames as the starter, and Rob Wort held on for the win despite giving up four hits in two innings and loading the bases in the ninth. Hillsboro got its first two runs on a sacrifice fly by Taylor Ratliff that scored Justin Gonzalez in the seventh, and on an RBI base hit by Zach Esquerra to plate Stryker Trahan in the eighth.
The second one-run victory came two days later in a 7-6 win to round out the Tri-City series. Trahan pounded out three hits and four RBIs to pace the offense, and Pedro Ruiz, Kevin Cron, Grant Heyman and Ratliff added two hits each.
With the game tied at 5-all heading into the ninth, Heyman knocked an RBI single to right field to score Ratliff and Nyisztor, and then the team held on when the Dust Devils scored a run in the bottom half before Zac Curtis recorded the final out. He still picked up his 14th save, while Mason McCullough earned the win in a relief appearance.
On Saturday, the Hops recorded their second one-run triumph in as many nights in a 1-0 pitchers duel to start the Eugene series.
The only score of the game came in the fourth inning, when Heyman singled to plate Nyisztor from second. Brad Keller was excellent in the start, yielding just one hit over six innings for the win. Dustin Loggins gave up the only other hit the Emeralds managed all game but held on for his fourth save.
Hillsboro was much crisper on offense Sunday, when the team blasted to a 4-0 lead in the second inning and cruised to a 7-1 win. Nyisztor and Cron had two hits each. Nyisztor also had two RBIs, as did Jordan Parr, while Galli Cribbs scored three runs and got the Hops on the board in the second by taking a pitch with the bases loaded. Parr followed with a sac fly to plate Stewart Ijames, and Nate Robertson, and Nyisztor brought Cribbs home with a single.
Ben Eckels threw a one-hitter through three innings, and Scott Schultz gave up four hits over the next three innings but earned the win.
In Mondays 7-3 victory, Parr hit a double for two RBIs and scored a run, and Nyisztor who hit a home run in the fourth and Heyman chipped in two hits and an RBI apiece. Mike Cetta gave up just one hit and one run in five innings as the starter and winning pitcher.