The Hillsboro Hops blasted open a tight game to leave the Boise Hawks behind 7-1 for the victory Thursday night. A hustle-filled defensive play to start the game proved to be an omen when Hops second baseman Ryan Grotjohn speared a grounder up the middle with an amazing grab and wheeled around in a blink of an eye to throw lead-off hitter JB Moss out at first. The game would be filled with top notch defense through-out the game.
But the tone was set by the pitching on both sides. There was no score until the sixth inning. Before then, starting pitchers Tyler Vail (Hops) and Nick Kennedy (Hawks) controlled every effort to get on the scoreboard.
“Tyler Vail pitched a great game” said an appreciative Daulton Varsho who should know. Varsho was his battery mate behind the plate for the game. Vail (W, 1-3) was never seriously threatened through the first seven innings of the game. Throwing 62 strikes and striking out eight batters with only one walk showed his mastery on the mound. Vail was even allowed to remain pitching up through 92 pitches, an unusually high amount for a single A level game but more in line with the major league level of endurance.
The opposing starting pitcher matched Vail throw for throw until the sixth inning where Nick Kennedy (L, 2-2) ran into a common problem found in the NW League – the Hops bats were beginning to wake up. The Hops remained in a scoreless tie until the game’s first run in the sixth.
Ryan Tufts, who would score twice on the night, doubled to open the inning. Ryan Dobson singled moving Tufts to third. Ryan Grotjohn sent a deep sacrifice fly to center field and the first Hops’ run easily scored. It would be the first of two times that the three Ryans would start an inning to pleasant results.
Runs were still hard to come by. The game was littered with gloves out of nowhere robbing solid hits from the crack of the bat. One example was Pavin Smith’s sharp line drive to third baseman Danny Edgeworth who surprised the crowd with his lightning glove moving faster than the baseball.
If the score by Tufts in the sixth was the loosening of the catsup bottle, then Varsho took off the lid. With Drew Ellis on first with a single, Daulton sent a line drive towards left field that seemed within easy reach of left fielder Daniel Jipping. As Jipping kept moving backwards, the 6’2” winner of the home run derby at this year’s All-Star Game started running out of room. Before Jipping could glove the ball, it sailed just barely over the fence for a home run. An audible gasp of surprise murmured through the crowd and then erupted in celebration.
“It was a big energy boost” Daulton claimed referring to each run building up the team’s lead for the night.
The second time the triumvirate of Ryans made their mark was in the eighth. After Boise finally found their way across home plate and made the score a tighter 3-1, the three Ryans opened with a single followed by two walks to load the bases. Camden Duzenack added the Hops’ second double of the night to bring home Tufts and Dobson leaving Grotjohn and himself in scoring position.
Sam Thoele, who had come on in relief to start the eighth, quickly found himself knee deep in Hops. Brian Browning took over the mound but not before two more runs crossed the plate from Duzenack’s single (and second RBI of the game) and Varsho’s sacrifice fly to right to make the final score 7-1.
As the lead grew, it “Helped settle everyone down.” Varsho, who led the team with three RBIs on the night, added. Settle might be the wrong word unless settle means score more runs.
The win pushed the Hillsboro Hops (15-14) lead back to two games in the Southern Division with nine games left to play in the second half. The loss dropped the Boise Hawks (13-16) into a second-place tie with the Eugene Emeralds.
The Hops evened the series with the Hawks at one win apiece. Both teams return to Ron Tonkin Field Friday for an afternoon game starting at 1:05 pm to decide the winner of the three-game series.
By Greg Stoker