The Hillsboro Hops were the epitome of delayed gratification Thursday night. But the payoff was worth the wait.
After squandering several potential big innings, the Hops pulled through in the ninth as Tra Holmes lined a single up the middle to score Drew Ellis from third base in a 6-5 win over Spokane at Ron Tonkin Field.
The winning rally came with two outs and nobody on base. Pavin Smith ripped a single to center field off tall lefthanded reliever Lucas Jacobsen. With three straight righties due up, Spokane manager Matt Hagen called on righthander Josh Advocate, who promptly walked Drew Ellis on four pitches. Camden Duzenack lined a single to left field to plate Smith with the tying run. Holmes followed with an 0-1 liner up the middle. With Ellis flying around third, Spokane center fielder Miguel Aparicio's throw home was way up the third base line as the Hops' celebrated their fourth walk-off win of the year.
With both Eugene and Boise losing, the Hops took over sole possession of first place in the Northwest League South Division with their sixth consecutive win, grabbing a one-game lead over the Emeralds and a two-game advantage over the Hawks with three games until first-half cutoff point.
Earlier in the game, the Hops loaded the bases with none out in the second inning, but scored only one run on a Holmes grounder to second. Hillsboro had four consecutive singles to open the fourth, but again plated just one run on Duzenack's RBI single to score Smith.
Down 2-0, Spokane sent ten men to the plate in a five-run fifth inning before the Hops chipped away with single runs in the fifth and the seventh to close within one.
Smith continued a recent tear at the plate that has seen him assume the batting lead in the NWL. The first-round draft pick out of the University Of Virginia went 4-for-5 with two doubles, four runs scored and an RBI. Holmes and Duzenack each went 2-for-5 with two runs batted in and Ellis reached base four times. The middle of the Hops' order, batters three through seven, had all ten of the Hops hits.
Hillsboro closer Erbert Gonzalez pitched a scoreless ninth with a strikeout and a walk to earn the win. Starting pitcher Luis Madero gave up four hits and five runs in the fifth inning before Luis Castillo came on to get the final two outs. Castillo pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning after back-to-back one-out walks and a single up the middle by Aparicio. Castillo fanned Chad Smith on an inside fastball, then got Tyler Ratliff to bounce out to short to end the threat.
After 2 2/3 scoreless innings from Castillo, former Hop Jeferson Mejia retired the side in the eighth with two strikeouts. Mejia recently rejoined the Hops after 18 appearances out of the Kane County bullpen in the Midwest League. The 6-7 Dominican became only the second Hop to appear in a NWL game in three different seasons, following in the footsteps of Jose Martinez.
Aparicio, Clay Middleton and Melvin Novoa each had two hits for Spokane, with Novoa extending a hitting streak to 12 games.
Game two of the five-game series begins at 7:05 p.m. Friday night with pregame coverage starting at 6:35 p.m. on Rip City Radio 620 AM. There will also be a live telecast on Comcast SportsNet NW beginning at 7:00 p.m.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.