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Hillsboro comes from behind on back-to-back nights and takes four of the six games with Vancouver.

PMG FILE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Hillsboro Hops outfielder A.J. Vukovich during a game earlier this season. Vukovich had six RBI this past week versus Vancouver.The Hillsboro Hops improved to 11-10 and pulled within a half-game of first-place Tri-City by taking four of six games from Vancouver April 26 through May 1.

After being dominated 6-0 in the first of the six-game set April 26, the Hops rebounded with four straight wins before again being done in by an exceptional Canadians pitching performance, suffering a second shutout in a combined one-hitter that included six perfect innings by Vancouver starter Trent Palmer.

The sidewinding second-year professional struck out eight while allowing nary a hit or walk in his six innings of work. Palmer has allowed just three earned runs in 16 innings so far this season.

Hillsboro manager Vince Harrison said they certainly could have done some things differently at the plate in both of their shutout defeats versus the Canadians, but he mostly credited the visiting starters for their quality work on the mound.

"We didn't make great adjustments at times, but I thought their pitchers threw pretty well," Harrison said. "We didn't really get the ball elevated to do much damage, but they kept it down in the zone and got the results they wanted."

Between those bookend shutouts, the Hops did some pretty good work, coming from behind on back-to-back nights on Wednesday and Thursday, and sweeping a doubleheader on Saturday after a rainout the night before.

Both comeback wins ended in extra innings, and both were products of lockdown pitching performances by relievers Jake Rice and Austin Pope.

Pope threw both the 10th and 11th innings in Wednesday night's win, holding the Canadians hitless and striking out two, while Rice shut the visitors down in his one inning of work.

Rice has yet to allow a run in 8 2/3 innings of action this season and has relinquished just two hits in seven appearances.

Both Pope and Rice's work on the mound didn't go unnoticed by Harrison, who didn't lack superlatives when speaking about what he's seen from the two in relief thus far this season.

"You can't overlook how amazing Jake and Austin have been in those late game situations — they've been unreal," the manager said. "It's been really cool to see those two flourish in those roles."

PMG FILE PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - Hillsboro Hops pitcher Blake Walston in a game earlier this season. Walston was promoted to Double-A Amarillo following his standout performance April 30.The skipper has also been pleased to see the team's overall response to early- and late-game deficits. He said he believes that such clutch performances are a product of confidence and chemistry.

"That stuff has a way of manifesting itself," Harrison said. "We've been in a lot of close games in part because our pitching is keeping us in most games, and because we keep giving ourselves chances and we keep coming through. Those situations are fun for us and more pressure for the other team because we've been there."

In the first of Saturday's doubleheader, Blake Walston again shone bright, allowing no runs on two hits while striking out 10 and walking one in five innings of work. It would prove to be Walston's last outing for the Hops, as he was promoted to Double-A Amarillo after the game.

In four games in Hillsboro this season, Walston had an ERA of 2.55 and struck out 27 to just seven walks.

Harrison said one of the best things about Walston over the first month was his ability keep his team in the game.

"Walston gave us a chance every time he pitched," he said. "Sometimes he just looks unhittable, but what I love most about him is his maturity. He's grown a lot and is definitely more aware of the things happening around him. He's going to do great."

Right-handed pitcher Deyni Olivero was also promoted to Amarillo this past week, and Harrison is equally excited about the six-year pro's prospects at the next level.

"I think Deyni is going to surprise a lot of people, not because he's overachieving but because he was on pace in 2019 before COVID," Harrison said. "I think he's going to be good."

The Hops are on the road this week, traveling to Eugene for six games with the Emeralds before coming home to host Spokane next week.


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