Hillsboro Hops Douse Salem-Keizer Volcanoes With Walk-Off Win
With a fireworks extravaganza awaiting just beyond the left field wall, the Hillsboro Hops created their own fireworks display on the field, plating two runs in the bottom of the ninth for the walk-off win. It was an incredible start to the season, as the Hops celebrate their 2014 Northwest League title.
A crowd of nearly 5,200 packed Ron Tonkin Field on a warm, 79 degree evening. They anxiously awaited the sound of “Play Ball,” hoping to go home with an early season win. The Hops would not disappoint them.
In the top of the first the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes threatened as runners reached second and third with just one out. Hillsboro starter Tyler Bolton remained poised, striking out the final two batters of the inning of keep the Volcanoes from erupting early.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Hops rode the momentum they were feeling from an enthusiastic crowd, plating two runs in the inning. Zach Nehrir led off by beating out an infield single and promptly stole second base to put a runner in scoring position with no one out. Dane McFarland followed by slapping a ball between SKV third baseman Miguel Gomez and the bag. The ball rolled all the way down the line, bringing home Nehrir as Gomez strolled into second. McFarlane stole second base with DH Trevor Mitsui at the plate before the designated hitter drew a walk. That brought Jose Queliz to the plate. He punched a bloop single into shallow center field that Brennan Metzger made a valiant effort to catch, but the ball slid under his glove an in for a hit, scoring McFarlane with the club’s second run.
The second inning would be a scoreless one thanks to a nice defensive play. In the top of the inning Richard Rodriguez pounded a sharp grounder up the middle and Brennan Metzger followed with a base hit into left that advanced Rodriguez to second. The Volcanoes shortstop had ideas of heading for third, but stopped and decided to turn back. During the move he fell down and, before he could get up, he was tagged out by Raymael Flores.
In the top of the third inning Salem-Keizer would tie the score. Richard Amion singled to left field to begin the inning and advanced to second when Bolton walked Chase Compton. Fernando Pujadas followed with a single that loaded the bases and the Hillsboro starter was in a bit of trouble. It was already the second time that he had loaded the bases and it was only three innings into the game.
Next up was John Riley who grounded out, but Amion came home to score on the play, cutting the deficit in half. Miguel Gomez hit a fly ball to Luis Veras, who made the catch and fired home to try to nail Compton. The runner barely slid under the tag to tie the game.
In the top of the fourth the Volcanoes took the lead. Shlo McCall singled to left field to open the inning, and moved to third on a base hit by Rodriguez that chopped over the top of Nate Robertson’s head and into right field for a hit. Brennan Metzger walked, and for the third time in the game Bolton was in series trouble. He needed a big defensive play and he got one.
Bolton’s pitch hit off of the glove of Jose Queliz, and squirted away from the catcher. He quickly got up and chased after it, returning to the plate with speed and tagging out McCall as he attempted to slide home. Both runners advanced to second and third. Richard Amion came to the plate and grounded out to the third baseman but Rodriguez crossed the plate to give SKV the lead.
Neither team scored in the fifth, but Bolton was chased after giving up two hits. He allowed nine total hits in his 4.1 innings of work, walking two and striking three. All three runs scored against him were earned.
In the top of the sixth the Volcanoes extended their lead. Metzger walked to begin the frame and moved to second on a sharp single by Amion. Compton followed with a sharp comebacker to the pitcher, Lawrence Pardo, but he muffed the throw to first, allowing Metzger to score from second. Pujadas was hit by a pitch, loading the bases, and now it was time for the Tango to slow down. John Riley strikes out and MIiguel Gomez flew out. Pardo got Mark Nelson to ground out to end the inning and, despite giving up a run, the Hillsboro reliever showed his moxie.
The scored remained 4-2 into the eighth when the Hillsboro Hops got a run back as the momentum swung back their direction. Jarrett Leverett took over for the Volcanoes. Fernery Ozuna legged out a grounder for a hit. Sergio Alcantara followed with a long double down the third base line. Ozuna sprinted around the bases to score as Alacantra came into second with the stand-up double.Leverett was able to get the last out but the game had changed.The Volcanoes lead the game but the Hops are now leading the dance.
In the top of the ninth the Hops got two big defensive plays to keep the game as it was. Gomez hit a hard, sharp line drive that looked like it was going to go over the shortstop’s head, but Alacantara made an absolutely amazing catch, rising off the ground like a basketball center rising to block a shot, making the catch in the top of the glove’s netting and falling back down to earth with the ball safely in his glove. Mark Nelson then hit a tough to handle grounder to Flores at second, but Raymel made the play look routine, throwing the runner out at first.
In the bottom of the ninth Eric Sim came in to replace Leverett for the Volcanoes. Every fan in the standing was standing hoping the Hops lineup could at least tie the score and send it into extra innings. Nehrir led off the inning with a looping curve just past first base and into the right field corner. Nehrir raced hard out of the box and came into second with a double. With the tying run just 180-feet away McFarlance walked to put runners at first and second. a passed ball moved both runners into scoring position, and it simply looked inevitable that the Hops would tie the score.
Time for the Volcanoes reliever to come through a big out and when he struck out Veras that was a huge out. Amion was the next batter and he hit a hard grounder right at the Salem-Keizer second baseman, who had been playing in. Neither of the runners could move, and Amion was thrown out.
It looked like the Hops were going to waste a huge opportunity to tie a game. Sims had come up big and looked like he was going to get out of the inning and preserve the win, but he hit Jose Queliz to load the bases and the inning imploded on him from there. Nate Robertson reached first on a play that had the whole stadium confused. The umpire called catcher interference allowing Robertson to reach first, bringing home Nehrir to tie the game. Next came up Ozuna, who worked the count full before drawing a walk. That brought home the winning run to make it 5-4 and give the Hillsboro Hills the walk-off win.
Ozuna danced down the line on his way to first base as McFarlane came into score. The players and fans celebrated the win, making the fireworks show that much more celebratory.
Ariel Hernandez (1-0) earned the win with a perfect inning of relief. Sim (0-1) took the loss. Nehrir had a huge day at the plate, going 4-5 with 2 runs and 2 doubles. McFarland also had 2 hits and scored 2 runs with 2 doubles of his own. Alcantara drove in 2 for the Hops.
It may have not been a home run. It may have not been a sharp single scoring the winning run. But it was a win. And a win is worth a Tango.
By Greg Stoker