HILLSBORO, ORE.--On a night where the college football season got underway, the Hillsboro Hops got an early touchdown on the board against the Eugene Emeralds.
Hillsboro (20-14 first half, 31-41 overall) scored four runs in the third inning and added three more in the fourth to go up 7-0 on the way to a 9-2 victory over the Emeralds (13-21, 26-46) at Hillsboro Ballpark. The win evened their three game series at a game apiece and pulled the Hops back into a three-way tie for first place in the Northwest League South Division as Salem-Keizer held on to defeat Boise 10-8.
Over 4,500 people braved showery weather to see the Hops knock Eugene starting pitcher Bryan Verbitsky (0-6) off the hlll with four runs in the third inning, the last three coming on consecutive doubles by Daniel Palka, Zach Esquerra and Brian Billigen.
Esquerra's RBI double to right field was his first hit since returning from a month on the disabled list Wednesday night. After striking out three times in Wednesday's 6-5 loss and fanning his first time up against Verbisky, the lanky DH's high fly ball to right that dropped behind Eugene's drawn-in infield and in front of right fielder Donavan Tate was more than welcome. The Hops' slugger's second hit wasn't cheap as he lifted a solo home run to left field in the sixth inning to put the Hops up 8-2. Esquerra finished the night 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBI.
Palka and Billigen each drove in runs with singles in the fourth inning as the Hops added three more runs off Emeralds' reliever Michael Kelly, who walked three batters in the inning. Billigen finished with three hits, while George Roberts scored three runs for the Hops without a hit, walking three times before reaching base on a strikeout passed ball in the eighth. Randy McCurry delivered Roberts with a two-out single to center field to cap the Hops' scoring.
Ryan Doran improved to 2-0 for the Hops, allowing two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. Donavan Tate and Fernando Perez had back-to-back extra base hits in the sixth inning, with Perez' triple to the right center field fence scoring Tate, who reached on a one-out double. Perez scored on Chase Jensen's ground out to first base. Doran allowed seven hits with seven strikeouts and only one base on balls. In three Hillsboro starts, Doran has struck out seven batters in each outing with a total of three bases on balls in 20 2/3 innings pitched.
Johnny Shuttleswoth and J.R. Bradley closed out the game with hitless relief, combining to strike out four Eugene hitters with one base on balls.
Michael Bass had two hits for the Emeralds, who have lost nine of their last ten games.
A win in Friday night's series finale, coupled with a Boise victory over Salem-Keizer, would put the Hops destiny in their own hands, setting up a scenario where they would clinch a postseason berth with a three-game sweep at Boise in their final regular season series this weekend. A loss and/or a Salem-Keizer win Friday and the Hops would need some help from the Emeralds in order to reach the playoffs, as Eugene closes out its season with three games at Salem-Keizer starting Saturday.
Catch all of the live action with Rich Burk on Fox Sports Radio 620 AM and foxsportsradio620.com starting with the pregame show at 6:35 p.m. Friday night.