BOISE, IDAHO --- The Hillsboro Hops have fallen just short in their quest for a playoff berth in their inaugural season.
Hillsboro (22-15 in the second half, 33-42 overall) entered the night with their elimination number at one --- any Hops loss or Salem-Keizer win over the season's final two days would knock the Hops out of playoff contention. The Hops did their part to stay alive on Sunday night, beating Boise 14-3 at Boise Memorial Stadium behind two home runs and five runs batted in from Zach Esquerra. But Salem-Keizer's 15-1 win over downtrodden Eugene ended Hillsboro's playoff hopes.
Salem-Keizer, at 23-14, has clinched at least a share of the South Division second-half title, and they hold the tiebreaker over the Hops. Since they have now won both halves of the split-season format, their opponent will be Boise, the team with the next-best season-long winning percentage.
The Hops --- coming off Kyle Schepel's no-hitter on Saturday --- got on the board in the first inning when Taylor Ratliff singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on George Roberts' infield hit. After Daniel Palka singled and Roberts was picked off second, Esquerra launched an opposite-field, two-run home run to right to make it 3-0 Hops.
Jordan Parr and Ryan Gebhardt had back-to-back RBI doubles as part of a three-run second as Hillsboro forged a 6-0 lead. Esquerra led off the top of the third inning with a solo blast, also to right field, becoming the first Hillsboro Hop to hit two home runs in a single game. Four innings later, his two-run double to left field gave him 10 total bases and five runs batted in.
The Hops finished with 18 hits, two shy of their season high. Esquerra and Gebhardt had three hits each, while Ratliff, Roberts, Palka, Brian Billigen, Yosbel Gutierrez and Jordan Parr had two apiece.
Hillsboro starter Austin Platt was solid, allowing three runs on four hits in six innings, walking three (and hitting two batters) while striking out two. Boise (20-17, 41-34 overall) scored two of their three runs on a Kevin Encarnacion home run off Platt in the third.
Patrick Smith, Chase Stevens and Blayne Weller each worked a scoreless inning to finish the game.
The win was the Hops' ninth consecutive victory on the road. But, as it turns out, four one-run losses on the recent homestand were too much to overcome. Hillsboro needed Eugene to win at least twice in Keizer this weekend, but Salem-Keizer has out-scored Eugene 22-2 in taking the first two games of that series.
Hillsboro concludes their inaugural season in Boise on Labor Day. Game time is 4:35 PM (Pacific). The radio pregame show begins at 4:05 on Fox Sports Radio 620 in Portland and on the internet at www.foxsportsradio620.com.
Right-hander Ross Gerdeman (2-7, 3.59) is scheduled to start the season finale for the Hops. Righty Michael Wagner (0-2, 3-32) will get the ball for Boise.