Hops drop season opener to Tri-City 5-4
A loss is a loss, but despite the Hillsboro Hops coming out on the wrong end of a 5-4 contest in their season opener with Tri-City Friday night, April 8, at Ron Tonkin Field, manager Vince Harrison wasn't all that unhappy with what he saw from his team in the first of what will be a 132-game 2022 slate.
"Considering we didn't pitch the ball like we wanted to and had some situational hitting miscues, these guys are still figuring themselves out," Harrison said. "It's a good learning experience and despite some of the opportunities we threw away, we still had a chance to win and that's all you can ask for early on."
Blake Walston started the game for the Hops and despite giving up three first-inning runs was impressive for much of his time on the mound. The former 2019 first round pick from Wilmington, North Carolina threw 3.1 innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits while striking out eight and walking two.
Harrison said he saw good things from the 21-year-old but added that his inability to get ahead of hitters cost him in the first inning and ultimately led to his early departure.
"The story of the night was our pitchers working from behind," the manager said. "We had a lot of deep counts where guys threw extra pitches and that was part of the reason he (Walston) had to come out. I think going forward we need to get him locked in on attacking the zone early and that way he can go deeper into the game."
Despite a chilly evening that saw much of the game played in sub-50 degree temperatures, nearly 3,500 people showed up to see the Hops' season debut and were treated to a festive atmosphere, post-game fireworks, and an impressive Hillsboro debut for West Linn native Tim Tawa.
The 2017 West Linn High School and Stanford University graduate brought the crowd to their feet in the bottom of the fourth inning when he took a 1-0 slider from Tri-City starter Braden Olthoff and deposited it over the left field fence. The pitch was the last of the game for Olthoff, but the homerun was likely the first of many for Tawa who said he be hard-pressed to think—aside from with a win—of a better way to start the year.
"It felt really good," Tawa said. "I haven't even hit one in batting practice yet, so I ran pretty hard out of the box, but knew I hit it pretty well and it was cool to hear the crowd cheer, so that was a great way to start the season."
Harrison said he was happy for Tawa, but also saw it as an opportunity to give his first-year Hop a bit of a hard time.
"He's a Stanford guy, so he new to pop it up in the air and use that wind," the manager said with a chuckle. "He definitely got that one and I'm glad he got to do it on a Friday night in front of some people."
Tawa said he'd much rather have gotten the win in his debut, but added that the experience was second to none, and one he's looking forward to replicating over and over during his time with the Hops.
"I really enjoyed the environment," he said. "It was really cool to see all the fans come out on opening night with the fireworks and everyone being really into it, I really appreciated it. Our team really fed off their energy and I'm excited to play a lot more here."
After two quick outs Tri-City rallied for three runs in the game's initial inning, the first two of which came on a Osmy Gregorio double to right field.
Hillsboro got their first run a half-inning later when an Adrian Del Castillo sacrifice fly plated Jorge Barrosa to make it 3-1, then pulled to within 3-2 on Tawa's homer three innings later.
The Hops appeared ready to take the lead after putting runners on first and third with no outs in the sixth, but Tawa grounded into a 4-6-3 double play that scored A.J. Vukovich but killed the rally that left the game tied 3-3.
The Dust Devils took back the lead an inning later on a Gabe Matthews RBI single to right, and Hillsboro again tied it in the bottom of that same inning when Vukovich was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. But in the top of the eighth Tri-City's Steven Rivas doubled into the right field corner to score Straton Podaras—which would prove to be the winning run.
Harrison said he would've obviously preferred to win but said that even in the wake of the loss there was plenty to gain from the team's debut performance.
"I'm glad these guys got to experience a close game because that's what they need early on," Harrison said. "It's easy to play in a blowout, but if they get these close game experiences early in the season, it's only going to build them up."
Barrosa led the Hops with two hits, while Del Castillo, Vukovich and Tawa all tallied RBIs.
Four Hillsboro pitchers (Walston, Collin Sullivan, Kyle Backhus, Austin Pope and Bobby Ay) combined for 16 strikeouts.
Tri-City's Dakota Donovan got the win despite allowing two earned runs.
Hillsboro will host the Dust Devils in the second game of their three-game set at 6:35 p.m. on Saturday, April 9.
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