The Hillsboro Hops are headed to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and they didn't have to wait for help from the Mountain Time Zone to do it.
Hillsboro batted around in a six-run fifth inning and cruised to a 10-1 win in front of a second straight sell-out crowd at Vancouver's Nat Bailey Stadium, clinching the Northwest league South Division first-half title with three games to play with their league-leading 23rd win of the season.
The 23-12 mark is the best 35-game record in the history of the franchise. League records will reset following the final game of the current five-game series and playoff opponents will be determined by the second-half records.
Andy Yerzy, one of two Canadians to play in the game for the Hops, put Hillsboro on the board with a leadoff home run to right field off Vancouver starting pitcher Juan Nunez in the second inning. Vancouver evened the score in its half of the second when Bryan Lizardo doubled off the right field wall and scored on a Christopher Bec sacrifice fly.
In the Hops' half of the fifth, Vancouver reliever Denis Diaz retired the first batter he faced, but soon ran into trouble. Zach Hoffpauir drew a walk and swiped second base. Tra Holmes followed with a grounder wide of third. Lizardo made a diving stop, but a throw from his knees could not nab the speedy Hops' leadoff hitter. After Ryan January drew a full count walk to load the bases, Jose Caballero took a pitch outside on a 3-1 count to push across Hoffpauir with the go-ahead run. The Hops were only getting started.
Diaz faced one more batter as Yerzy lashed a single to center field to plate Holmes. Joey Pulido came on to replace Diaz, but promptly threw one to the backstop to score January. Joey Rose followed with a sacrifice fly to to right field and Jake McCarthy hit a blooper down the left field line between three Canadian defenders that kicked into foul territory for an RBI double. McCarthy trotted home later when he tried to steal third and drew a wild throw from Pulido.
The Hops added three insurance runs in the ninth after getting a strong outing from Kei-Wei Lin out of the bullpen, who retired all ten batters he faced with four strikeouts.
Yerzy, who had one of only two hits for the Hops in Thursday's series opener, went 2-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBI. McCarthy has now hit in nine straight games after going 2-for-4 with a run and two RBI. Holmes had a pair of hits and two runs scored and Rose pushed his team leading RBI total to 24 with a sac fly and a bases-loaded walk.
Andy Toelken, in his second appearances for Hillsboro, got credit for the win, pitching two scoreless innings with two hits allowed. Jake Polancic, a native of Langley, BC, made his first Hops appearance in the fifth, retiring his first two batters with one strikeout before back-to-back walks.
With three games remaining, Vancouver (17-18) is still in the thick of the North Division title race, now 1 1/2 games behind the Everett AquaSox and a half-game up on Tri-City pending the outcome of tonight's games.
Game three of the series returns to NBC Sports Northwest Rip City Radio 620AM Saturday night with pregame coverage beginning at 6:35 p.m. and the first pitch at 7:05. Sunday's game will be a 1:05 start with Monday's series finale at 7:05. The Hops return to Ron Tonkin Field Tuesday to open the second half of the season with the first of three games against the Boise Hawks, who were eliminated from the first-half division race with Hillsboro's win Friday.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.