Hops walk-off in NWL Championship Series opener
Better late than never.
For the bulk of Game 1 of the best-of-five Northwest League Championship Series Saturday night, Sept. 7, at Ron Tonkin Field, the Hillsboro Hops appeared to be headed for a loss. But trailing 3-1, with only three hits to their credit entering the game's final inning, the Hops turned the Tide, and after first baseman Andy Yerzy hit a first pitch fastball over the right field fence with two outs and two runners on base, the third year professional echoed what I, the franchise staff, and the couple thousand fans still lingering in the stadium were all thinking — this team and this championship seem preordained.
"We've been saying it since the first game of the season; that we have the best team in the league and we truly believe that," Yerzy said. "We have a lot of fight in the team, and you saw it tonight."
Hillsboro ultimately defeated Tri-City 5-3, but for six innings it was the Dust Devils and starting pitcher Ignacio Feliz that appeared to be the real winner.
The 19-year-old third year professional threw six strong innings for the Devils, allowing just a single hit while striking out seven and walking none. Feliz kept Hops hitters off-balance all night, changing speeds and using what could best be described as an unconventional silder to twist Hillsboro hitters in knots before leaving to start the seventh. Meanwhile, Tri-City got their first run on a Logan Driscoll sacrifice fly in the sixth, and added a second run on a towering Nick Gatewood home run in the seventh.
The Hops pulled back within a run when Ricky Martinez singled home Yerzy — who'd doubled off of the right field wall — in the eighth, but the Dust Devils answered with a third run in the top of the ninth when Jack Stonach doubled down the right field line, scoring Kelvin Melean to put the visitors ahead 3-1 to start the bottom half of the ninth.
Enter the magic.
After Tristan English grounded out off of Tri-City's reliever Dan Dallas to start the inning, Dominic Canzone was hit by a pitch, then Liover Peguero and Corban Carroll walked to load the bases. The Dust Devils then went to the bullpen for Tom Colletti who battled Jesus Marriaga before the right-hander plated Canzone with a sacrifice fly to left field that cut the lead to 3-2. Now, with Peguero on second and Carroll at first trailing by just a run, the scene was set for Yerzy to do something he'd never done before — hit a walk-off homer.
"That was the first walk-off home run of my life, including tee-ball," Yerzy said. "I've had a couple walk-off hits, but that was pretty special to do that in the playoffs."
The lefty said that after watching Colletti throw Marriaga six straight sliders, he assumed the pitcher would start him off with a fastball so as not to get behind in the count. Expecting such, Yerzy sat on the fastball and laced it down the right field line and just inside the foul pole, setting-off the second walk-off celebration in as many nights, following Peguero's walk-off double in Game 1 of the divisional round against Salem-Keizer this past Wednesday.
"I knew he was probably going to try something different with me so he didn't fall behind," Yerzy said. "So I just put him on heater, he threw it where I like it and I got my barrel on it."
The first baseman was one of the few Hops who swung the bat well on this night, finishing 2-for-4 with a third ball caught at the wall in dead centerfield in his second at-bat. Yerzy, who's struggled a bit at the plate this season, has been swinging the bat much better of late and credited a recent adjustment for what's turned his offensive tide since a series with Eugene a couple weeks back.
"I've felt really good at the plate the last couple of weeks," he said. "In Eugene a couple weeks ago I kind of narrowed my stance and changed some mechanical things, and I've been hitting it a little better."
Thankfully for Hops fans, they'd say a lot better.
Dallas took the loss for Tri-City, while Brennan Malone was credited with the win for Hillsboro.
The Hops' Drey Jameson started the game on the mound and threw three innings, allowing no runs and two hits while striking out four.
Game 2 of the NWL Championship Series will be at 5:05 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, at Ron Tonkin Field.
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