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By Maverick Pallack/Portland Tribune/Boise erases deficit, wins series opener 2-1

HILLSBORO — The Hillsboro Hops are struggling.

After Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Boise Hawks, the Hops have lost six of their last seven games and are tied with the Eugene Emeralds atop the Single-A Northwest League South Division.

The bullpen was the team's strongpoint a few weeks ago, but Hillsboro relievers have been in a rut for the past week. In this seven-game stretch, five of the Hops' six losses went to relievers.

On Wednesday, before3,514 fans at Ron Tonkin Field, the Hops had the lead, but the lack of run support put a lot of pressure on the bullpen to be perfect. Single runs allowed in the seventh and eighth innings gave Boise the win.

"That's what baseball is all about," Hillsboro manager Javier Colina said. "We just have to reset the button. It's the first game of the series. We have to come back and keep fighting and competing."

The Hawks scored off Justin Garcia and then Bryan Menendez.

Garcia allowed the first run in his last five outings. After striking out the first two batters he faced, he gave up a seemingly harmless two-out single to Ezequiel Tovar.

Tovar advanced to third when Garcia threw a wild pitch on a steal attempt.

Joe Aielts tied the game with his newfound RBI chance and a single to left field.

Menendez allowed a one-out triple to Yorvis Torrealba and an RBI single to Tyler Plantier.

The Hops' first two pitchers were stellar. Ryne Nelson and Wilfry Cruz combined to shut out the Hawks over six innings, striking out 10 batters.

"They did an excellent job," Colina said. "It was good to see how (Nelson) commanded his fastball. He was challenging them. Same with Wilfry. He threw a lot of strikes."

Nelson, a second-round draft pick out of the University of Oregon, pitched three innings while striking out a career-high six batters. He allowed two hits in the best outing as a pro.

Cruz, a right-hander from Bani, Dominican Republic, had a quality bounce-back performance after surrendering seven runs in his last appearance (an 8-7 loss on Friday at Salem-Keizer). Cruz struck out four batters. He also escaped two jams with runners in scoring position.

Boise starter Jeffri Ocando matched the Hops on the mound, allowing three hits. He silenced the Hopsuntil Corbin Carroll led the fifth inning off with a triple. Carroll, the Arizona Diamondbacks' first-round pick who was making his Ron Tonkin Field debut, scored two pitches later.

The 18-year-old from Seattle was called up on Aug. 8 and is hitting .348 in six games.

The Hops, who had five hits, had a great chance to tie the game in the eighth. After Jorge Barrosa's two-out triple, Dominic Canzone grounded a ball into the five-six hole. Tovar backhanded it. The shortstop threw an off-balanced dart to first, and Peltier was able to keep his foot on the bag with his stretch to get the hustling Canzone on a close play.

One thing that could be affecting the Hops' recent performance is the absence of two of the team's top coaches — pitching coach Barry Enright and do-everything coach Chuy Mendoza. Enright is out for a personal matter, and Mendoza has been battling shingles over the past 15-plus days.

"We're going through crazy moments right now," Colina said. "I cannot wait to have those guys back. We need their energy."

The Hops and Boise will play Game 2 of the series at Ron Tonkin Field at 7 p.m. Thursday. A win would go a long way for the Hops' postseason push. Eugene holds the tiebreaker with a two-game advantage in division records.

"We have to make adjustments and be ready to play tomorrow," Colina said. "I know we're going to bounce back and do well."

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