Two down, one to go.
After taking two straight against Salem-Keizer in the Northwest League Playoffs' Divisional Round, the Hops find themselves a win away from their third NWL championship after taking a 2-1 series lead in their best-of-five series with Tri-City.
The Hops — who've developed a flair for the dramatic — defeated the Dust Devils 2-1 in Game 3 of the NWL Championship Series Monday night, Sept. 9, at Gesa Stadium in Pasco, WA, and did so in dramatic fashion.
With the game tied 0-0 entering the ninth inning, Tristin English hit a two-out, two-run home run to left centerfield, then watched as the Hillsboro bullpen hung on in the bottom half of the inning to seal the victory.
Hillsboro's Tyler Holton was again brilliant on the mound, going seven innings, shutting out Tri-City while allowing just four hits, striking out nine and walking none. It was Holton's second appearance in the playoffs, after pitching Game 1 of the divisional round.
The Dust Devils made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases without an out on a single and two walks by Hops reliever Nick Snyder. Mailon Arroyo relieved Snyder and immediately got Kelvin Melean to line out to shallow right field. A batter later, Jack Stronach grounded sharply to Hillsboro first baseman Andy Yerzy who stepped on the bag for the second out as Tri-City's Reinaldo Ilarraza scored to make it a 2-1 game. Then, with two outs and runners on second and third, Luke Becker battled through a 10 pitch at-bat before watching Arroyo's third strike on a 2-2 count, ending the game and putting the Hops a game from a league championship.
The win was the second in dramatic fashion in the series, after Hillsboro won the series-opener on a Andy Yerzy walk-off three-run homer.
English finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
Tri-City's Luarbert Arias started the game and pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just one hit while striking out six.
Game 4 is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 10, in Pasco, after this paper's print deadline, and if necessary, Game 5 is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 11, also in Pasco.
Here's a recap of the championship series' first two games:
Sept. 7 — Hillsboro 5, Tri-City 3
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 not without the ninth inning 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."
Sept. 8 — Tri-City 9, Hillsboro 1
Tri-City scored six runs on just two hits in the first inning, benefiting from wildness by Hops starter Blake Walston and reliever Jacob Stevens, who combined to walk three and hit a fourth batter before the back-breaker. Catcher Jonny Homza turned on a full-count pitch from Stevens and roped it just inside the left field foul pole for a grand slam.
The Hops clawed back a run in the bottom of the inning on a single by designated hitter Dom Canzone. But they couldn't gain traction, and the Dust Devils just kept coming.
"It's just hard to keep the offense going when the other team scores six runs in the first inning," Hops manager Javier Colina said after the game. "It's not easy to come back."
The Hops weren't just moribund on offense — they were also sloppy on defense. Hillsboro fielders committed five errors in the contest, three of them charged to a pitcher. Even still, all nine of the Dust Devils' runs were scored as earned.
After Sunday's loss, Colina was looking for his team to put it behind them and play tighter baseball in Pasco.
"I still trust my guys. I still believe in the team I have," Colina said. "It was a tough game for us today, and you know, we're going to make adjustments and be ready to roll tomorrow."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.