Hillsboro splits 'final homestand' with Eugene
It's a wrap! Well, kind of.
The Hillsboro Hops technically ended their home slate this past weekend with the last of six games with archrival Eugene. But with the hometown Hops ending their 2021 season with the Vancouver Canadians — who have shared Ron Tonkin Field with the Hops this season due to border complications stemming from COVID — the week of Sept. 14-19, Hillsboro fans will get one more look at their team before the players and coaches head elsewhere for the offseason.
With that said, the Hops sent their fans out with a bang, offering promotions from Wear Pink to College Information nights, and ending with fireworks following Friday night's 7-4 win.
The home team managed a split with Eugene. The Emeralds are in a dogfight for one of the High-A West's two playoff spots.
While the Hops dropped the first of the two teams' six games, they won the next three, then were swept in Sunday's doubleheader — the result of a power outage Saturday night that forced the postponement of the game.
Hops manager Vince Harrison said he was pleased with the way his team aggressively ran the bases and put together quality at-bats when it mattered most, but he anguished over frivolous walks that cost the team throughout the week.
"We issued some walks that really came back to haunt us," the manager said. "That's something that's pretty uncharacteristic of our guys."
That's exactly what happened in Tuesday's series opener. Nick Snyder came in with the Hops leading 5-3 to start the ninth, but he immediately issued a leadoff walk to Armani Smith, then two batters later, Jairo Pomares tied the game with a first-pitch homer to right field. After Marco Luciano singled to put the go-ahead run aboard, Logan Wyatt doubled him home for the game-winning run.
Harrison said that pitching coach Shane Loux repeatedly stresses to his players the importance of getting ahead in the count, so as to keep hitters guessing, citing numerous instances this past week as examples of what predictability can lead to in late inning situations.
"Shane always talks about racing hitters to two strikes," Harrison said. "When you're getting behind in counts, you get to these predictable counts. If you have aggressive hitters, that's when the bad stuff happens."
There wasn't a lot of bad stuff happening for catcher Axel Andueza, who hit .500 this past week, and has proven to be a tough out, striking out just once in his last 34 at-bats (as of press time).
Additionally, third baseman A.J. Vukovich swung the bat well against the Ems, batting .391 with a home run and four RBIs in six games of action this past week. The 20-year-old has 12 RBIs in his last 11 games.
On the mound, reliever Austin Pope was a bright spot for Hillsboro, throwing twice, allowing no earned runs on just three hits while striking out five and walking one. The former 15th round pick in the 2019 draft has yet to allow an earned run since joining the Hops in mid-August.
Also on the bump, Collin Sullivan responded to a couple rough outings early on in his Hops career by earning a win Sept. 1. He went five innings, allowing just one earned run on four hits while striking out seven.
Harrison thought Sullivan's turnaround could be attributed to both adjustments and circumstance.
"He ran into a pretty good Spokane and Eugene team when he first got here, so there were definitely some teachable moments," Harrison said. "But he's responded to the challenges and has been able to make the adjustments to have that kind of outing."
While the Hops are out of postseason contention, Eugene is in the thick of the playoff battle. Despite Hops fans eyeballing a spoiler role, Harrison said that was never something he addressed with his team.
"In my eyes, if you don't have to change who you are, then you're always playing for something," he said. "You play for pride, and just trying to be the best version of who you are. I've had a few fans say to me recently that they just really like how hard our guys play the game, and if you have that, you know what you're going to get whether you're playing spoiler or not."
The Hops travel to Tri-City for six games with the Dust Devils this week. They will return for six with Vancouver Sept. 14-19 at Ron Tonkin Field.
Last week's scores
Eugene 6, Hillsboro 5
Hillsboro 7, Eugene 2
Hillsboro 6, Eugene 5
Hillsboro 7, Eugene 4
Eugene 2, Hillsboro 1
Eugene 6, Hillsboro 1
3B A.J. Vukovich batted .391 with a homerun and four RBI in six games of action this past week. The 20-year-old has 12 RBI in his last 11 games.
C Axel Andueza led the team with a .500 batting average in the last week, hitting safely eight times in his 16 at-bats. Andueza has proven to be a tough out, striking out just once in 34 at-bats over the last 15 days.
P Austin Pope threw seven innings over two games versus Eugene, allowing no earned runs on just three hits while striking out five and walking one. The former 15th round pick in the 2019 draft has yet to allow an earned run since joining the Hops in mid-August.
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