The Hillsboro Hops are playing better, proven out by their split last week of a six-game series with the second place Eugene Emeralds.
But in addition to their three wins, Hops manager Vince Harrison said it's equally encouraging to see his team growing by way of their performance in one-run games — of which they had six this past week.
"It's always nice to be on the winning side, while at the same time tough when you're on the losing side," Harrison said. "But at the end of the day, it's cool to know those last three outs are going to be important, and that your team is going to grow from those chances — which they did."
The six-game split was highlighted by the Hops' come from behind win Friday, July 23, when the visitors, trailing 8-3, scored seven runs in the top half of the seventh inning, sparked by what Harrison called the type of play that changes games.
With Hillsboro down by five runs, Axel Andueza and Jorge Barrosa hit back-to-back singles to lead-off the inning. The next hitter, Blaze Alexander, then grounded to short but beat out the double play attempt at first base, putting runners on the corners for Eduardo Díaz, who doubled in Andueza and Alexander to start what would be a seven-run inning.
Harrison noted the hustle by Alexander to his team after the game and stressed the importance of little things that often end in big results.
"Everybody always remembers the walkoff hits, but it's really easy to overlook the things that got us in that position to begin with," Harrison said. "Blaze's play and effort was really cool, and I wanted the guys to note that."
Helping the cause was Hillsboro's .264 batting average for the week, up nearly 30 points from its season average. Leading the way was shortstop Roman Ruiz, who hit .500 in five games against Eugene, along with left fielder Jorge Barrosa, who hit .350 with a home run while driving in five.
But while the bats came to life against the Emeralds, it was the starting pitching that stood out for the Hops.
Hillsboro starters Slade Cecconi, Drey Jameson and Blake Walston combined for a 1.73 ERA in four starts against Eugene, striking out 41 while walking six in 26 innings of work.
Walston, who was roughed up in Eugene in his Hops debut, redeemed himself with a dominating performance July 20, allowing one earned run on just two hits while striking out 11. He backed that up July 25, allowing two earned runs on just three hits, while striking out nine in just five innings of work.
Harrison was impressed with the rookie's performance and proud of his ability to show out twice in a six-game set.
"To come back for the first time in a five day rotation, and to see how he worked with a new catcher," Harrison said, "was really cool."
That new catcher was former Westview High School standout Carson Kelly, a regular with the Arizona Diamondbacks who was assigned to the Hops through July 28 while rehabbing from a wrist injury suffered last month.
Harrison said the benefits of having a guy like Kelly rubbing shoulders with his young players are endless, but added that while Kelly's temporary presence is beneficial to the team, he was just as happy for Kelly to get to play in his hometown for the first time as a professional.
"He told me that he obviously never wants to be hurt, but it was on his mind that if he ever were injured, there was a chance he'd get to rehab here," Harrison said. "He's close to home here and said that he'll probably come back here when he's done with baseball. He's really excited about this, and he's putting a lot of energy into it. You can't put a value on what this means to all of us here."
Additionally, the Hops bade farewell this week to outfielder Dominic Canzone and right-handed pitcher Tyler Jones. Both players were promoted Monday, July 26, to the Double-A Amarillo Sod Poodles.
The Hops are hosting last-place Tri-City in a six-game set at Ron Tonkin Field. That series was scheduled to get underway Tuesday evening, July 27, after this newspaper's print deadline.
High-A West Standings
Hillsboro 3, Eugene 2
Eugene 5, Hillsboro 4
Eugene 4, Hillsboro 3
Hillsboro 10, Eugene 9
Hillsboro 3, Eugene 2
Eugene 6, Hillsboro 5
SS Roman Ruiz batted .500 in five games against Eugene, tallying eight hits, scoring three runs and driving in two.
LF Jorge Barrosa had seven hits in 20 at-bats against the Emeralds and leading the Hops with 5 RBIs, while blasting a home run en route to a .700 slugging percentage for the week.
Starting pitchers Slade Cecconi, Drey Jameson and Blake Walston combined for a 1.73 ERA in four starts this past week, striking out 41 while walking six in 26 innings of work.
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.