With a rare electrical storm creeping closer to Ron Tonkin Field in the ninth inning, the Hops were unable to make lightning strike late in a 4-3 loss to the Eugene Emeralds in their home opener Wednesday night.
Eugene broke a 3-3 tie in the fifth inning when 2017 Dominican Summer League MVP Fernando Kelli scampered home on a wild pitch after beating out an infield hit and advancing to third on a hit-and-run.
For the second straight night, the Hops were unable to tax an opposing bullpen. Eugene's Jake Steffens fanned five in three scoreless innings to scoop up his second win in as many appearances against Hillsboro. Steffens was the winning pitcher in the 2017 NWL Division Series playoff opener in Eugene last year.
Dalton Geekie struck out the side in the ninth for the save, following a 1-2-3 eighth inning with two strikeouts from Mitch Stophel.
A crowd of 4.332 fans stuck around for a fireworks show with a backdrop of lightning and thunder on an uncharacteristically warm, muggy June night in Hillsboro.
Hillsboro grabbed an early 1-0 lead when Tra Holmes drew a leadoff walk, stole second, advanced to third on a fielder's choice and scored on a wild pitch by Eugene starting pitcher Eury Ramos.
Eugene responded with a three-run second inning. Rafael Mejia drove in two with a triple to left center and scored on a Luis Vazquez ground out.
Hillsboro evened the score in its half of the second. Ryan January doubled and scored after a pair of Ramos wild pitches. With Alex King aboard, Jorge Perez doubled in the tying run.
The Hops had a golden opportunity to even the score in the fifth inning when leadoff batter Holmes poked a broken bat liner to center and rushed into second on an errant pickoff throw. But Holmes strayed too far off the bag on Keshawn Lynch's grounder to short, tagged out by Vazquez on a 6-3 double play. Only two other Hops reached base the rest of the way as the Eugene pen combined for nine of their 14 strikeouts.
Perez went 2-for-3 and Holmes reached base twice before leaving the game in the eighth after appearing to injure himself on an awkward swing. Kelli reached base three times for Eugene, but the 19-year-old Venezuelan speedster was gunned down twice trying to steal. Jonathan Sierra reached base three times, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
Kenny Hernandez allowed seven hits in 4 1/3 inning and all four runs. He struck out three and did not allow a walk for the second straight start. Hops relievers Josh Green, Ethan Larrison and Rafael Pujols combined on 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Game two of the series begins at 7:05 p.m. Thursday night and will once again air on The Legend 103.7 FM with pregame coverage beginning at 6:35 p.m.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.