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Banged-up Hops Battle To Another Close Finish

Hops lose 2 more injured prospects in 4th straight 1-run game.
April 10, 2024

With Hillsboro Hops' fans nails already bitten down to the nub after a weekend's worth of dramatic thrillers, the Hops again took it to the limit before falling one run short in their first road game of the year. The Vancouver Canadians broke a 3-3 tie with two runs in

With Hillsboro Hops' fans nails already bitten down to the nub after a weekend's worth of dramatic thrillers, the Hops again took it to the limit before falling one run short in their first road game of the year.

The Vancouver Canadians broke a 3-3 tie with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, then held on in a tense ninth inning to record a 5-4 victory in front of 2,501 fans in their home opener at Nat Bailey Stadium.

Already without top 2023 draft pick Tommy Troy for a second straight game, the Hops saw two more top players go down with injuries during Tuesday night's tilt. But their replacements nearly sparked a comeback in HIllsboro's last turn at bat.

The C's loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the eighth on a leadoff infield hit by Jace Bohrofen and back-to-back bases on balls from Hops' reliever Eli Saul (0-2). Bohrofen lined a comebacker off Saul to lead off the frame, then collided with first baseman Gino Groover as Saul's throw glanced away. Groover went down writhing in pain and left the game with a left forearm injury, accompanied by Hops' trainer Haruki Mukohchi, who has been way too busy the first week of the season.

Saul departed and Armando Vasquez surrendered back-to-back RBI singles to Brennan Orff and Jaden Rudd. The inning could have been worse for the Hops, but Nick Goodwin was gunned down at the plate trying to score on Orf's RBI hit, while Orf would eventually be tagged out at third when Wyatt Crenshaw, who entered the game after Groover's injury, picked a short hop liner off the grass and beat him retreating to the bag.

Down 5-3 in the ninth, the Hops had to contend with Vancouver's Justin Kelly (1-0), an undrafted free agent from Utah coming off a sterling 2023 for the NWL champs (five saves, 1.80 earned run average). Kelly had fanned the Hops' side in the eighth and struck out the side in his only inning at Spokane over the weekend. He retired the first two Hops batters in short order, getting Andrew Pintar to pop out to second before punching out Manny Pena on a 3-2 pitch. Up stepped Crenshaw in Groover's number three spot in the order. The former Arizona State Sun Devil, who spent his first four college seasons at Division II Colorado Christian, battled the former Pac-12 hurler for a seven-pitch base on balls, bringing Brett Johnson to the plate.

Johnson--making his 2024 Hops debut after splitting last season between Hillsboro and Visalia--had entered the game for Jack Hurley after the Hillsboro left fielder came up lame on a seventh-inning stolen base. In his first plate appearance for the Hops, Johnson battled Kelly for a six-pitch walk, drawing the ire of Vancouver pitching coach Austin Bibens-Dirckx. The Salem native was ejected by home plate umpire Spencer Kim after a trip to the mound as the C's crowd grew increasingly restless.

Christian Cerda came up and for the fourth consecutive batter the Hops worked a full count, the partisan crowd's displeasure becoming more amplified with each ball called. On the 3-2 pitch, Cerda rifled a single up the middle, scoring Crenshaw and sending Johnson to third with a potential game-tying run. Gavin Conticello got the count in his favor 2-0, but rolled a routine grounder to Estiven Machado at second base and the C's escaped with their first victory.

Vancouver took a 3-0 lead in the third inning when shortstop Nick Goodwin launched a three-run homer off starting pitcher Billy Corcoran into the Nutrl zone seats in left. Corcoran went 3 1/3 innings, allowing four hits and two earned runs.

The Hops couldn't get to Vancouver starter Chris McElvain. Making his organizational debut after joining the Blue Jays in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds last month, the former Vanderbilt hurler tossed four scoreless innings, allowing just two Gino Groover singles while striking out two and walking two.

The C's bullpen did not fare well. Alex Amalfi, a signee from Division III U Mass Boston, loaded the bases with none out in the fifth after a David Martin infield hit and back-to-back walks to Juan Corniel and Pintar. But the Hops struggles with runners in scoring position continued as they were able to plate only one run on a Pena ground out. That failure would come back to haunt them later.

Martin's next trip to the plate came the following inning. After hulking righthander Johnathan Lavallee (no relation to manager Brett) walked Cerda and Conticello to lead off the inning, the HIllsboro DH smoked a double to the right field corner to pull the Hops even at 3-3. A balk sent Martin to third, but Lavallee fanned Corniel and Pintar to keep the go-ahead run on base.

Martin, a 16th round 2022 draft pick out of Cal Baptist, reached base all four times, going 3-for-3 with a walk. Groover finished the night 3-for-4 with three hard-hit singles.

Lavallee and Kelly combined to strike out nine Hillsboro batters over the final three innings after the Canadians pen wavered in the middle frames. Bohrofen and Goodwin--Vancouver's number three and four hitters in the order--each reached base three times with two hits and a run scored. Leadoff batter Dasan Brown--a ranked prospect and the only Canadian on the current Vancouver roster--went 1-for-4 and hit several balls hard. Brown--known more for his speed and defense in center field-- homered in the opening series at Spokane and showed increased power down the stretch in 2023.

The Hops put at least one runner on base in eight of their nine turns at bat and multiple runners in four different innings, but went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position. Through four games, Hillsboro is batting .209 (14-for-67) with runners at second or third.

Spencer Giesting, who spent all of 2023 in the Hillsboro starting rotation, will make his 2024 debut on the mound Thursday night. Vancouver will counter with the tenth-ranked prospect in the organization according to MLB Pipeline, left hander Kendry Rojas. Wednesday night's game will air live on Rip City Radio 620 AM with pregame coverage starting at 6:50 p.m. and first pitch at 7:05. Thursday's game is scheduled for 7:05 as well, but will not be broadcast on radio due to a conflict with the Portland Trailblazers and Oregon State Beavers (see website for instructions on how to listen). The final three games of the series are all scheduled 1:05 p.m. starts, affectionately known locally as "Nooners At The Nat".