Hillsboro again blows an early lead and fails to advance beyond playoffs' first round

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: WADE EVANSON - Hillsboro Hops shortstop L.T. Tolbert during Thursdays game against Eugene at Ron Tonkin Field.There's a saying; nothing ends well, otherwise it wouldn't end.

After the greatest regular season in franchise history, the Hillsboro Hops' 2018 season came to an abrupt and seemingly unfair end Thursday night with a 3-2 loss to the Eugene Emeralds in Game 2 of their divisional playoff series at Ron Tonkin Field.

After going 51-25 in the Clss A Northwest League regular season, the Hops were eliminated by an Ems team that went 31-45.

In a game that felt eerily like the one on Wednedsay, the Hops took an early lead only to be undone in the middle innings by a couple untimely mistakes that proved costly to the game, and ultimately the series and season for Hillsboro.

Despite allowing no hits through the first five innings and just a single runner outside of the sixth inning, it was that sixth that made the difference. Trailing 1-0 and with runners on second and third with two out, Eugene's Nelson Velazquez hit a ground ball over the bag at second that was fielded cleanly by Hillsboro shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, who threw a laser to first only to have the ball carom off the glove of first baseman Zach Shannon, allowing two runs to score and giving the road Ems a 2-1 lead. Luke Reynolds followed that with a double to center that scored Velzquez, and the damage was done as Eugene took a 3-1 lead.

The Hops drew first blood in the opening inning when Jake McCarthy doubled to left, moved to third on an infield single by Perdomo, then later scored on a L.T. Tolbert sacrifice fly to center.

From there it was the Matt Mercer show. The hard-throwing right-hander from the University of Oregon via Tacoma, Washington, came out on fire, striking out six and walking none in four hitless innings.

Jackson Goddard relieved Mercer in the fifth and put the Ems down in order, setting up the fateful sixth from which the Hops would never recover.

Eugene starter Faustino Carrera, who'd allowed one earned run in his previous 18 innings, befuddled Hops hitters for most of his 5 1/3 innings, allowing just the first-inning run on five hits. The lefty used a combination of fastballs and changeups to keep Hillsboro on its heels, and battled his way out of jams in the second and fifth innings before leaving with two runners on in the sixth.

Hillsboro didn't quit, however, scratching across a run in the bottom of the sixth when Tolbert scored on a fielder's choice to make the score 3-2, and then threatening in the ninth.

Joey Rose struck out to start the final inning, but Buddy Kennedy singled over the bag at second, then advanced to third when Will Gorman — pinch-hitting for Dan Swain — doubled to right-center, putting the tying run at third and the winning run at second.

But much like the night before, when the Hops went 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position and lost 3-2 in Eugene, Hillsboro again failed when it mattered most. The Hops stranded both runners when Jorge Perez struck out and McCarthy popped out to short to end the game and ignite a Eugene celebration.

Perez led the Hops offensively, going 2 for 4, while Tolbert and Rose tallied Hillsboro's only RBIs.

Eugene finished with four hits but got RBIs from Velazquez and Reynolds in the win.

Carrera got the win for the Ems, while Goddard took the loss for the Hops.

Eugene will now face the winner of the NWL North Division playoff series between Everett and Spokane, which split their first two games and will decide their series with a rubber game Friday night at Spokane. Everett won 8-3 Thursday at Spokane.

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