Players hear of the rivalry before they even arrive in Hillsboro or Eugene, from others who have been part of it… and, since their parent clubs' spring complexes are just a few miles apart in Arizona, players from both teams face each other often during extended spring training. They know each other well.
In 2018, Hillsboro will be gunning for revenge, as they have been bounced from the postseason by Eugene each of the last two years.
Significant moments between the two clubs go back further than their first playoff meeting in 2016… all the way back to the 2013 season, the Hops' first in the Northwest League. A look at some of those meaningful dates:
June 17, 2013: The Hops beat Eugene 12-0 in the first-ever game at Ron Tonkin Field.
August 28-30, 2013: Hillsboro enters the final home series of their first season in a first-place tie with six games remaining… but the Hops drop two of three to last-place Eugene --- both losses by one run --- to fall a game back; Hillsboro finishes one game out and misses the playoffs.
July 20, 2014: The Hops clinch the first-half title in Eugene --- Hillsboro's first-ever playoff berth --- with a 3-2 win on the next-to-last day of the half. The go-ahead run scores on George Roberts' routine 4-3 ground out in the top of 9th when Eugene inexplicably plays the infield back with runners on first and third and none out. Ems manager Robbie Wine afterwards admits his mistake. The Hops have a raucous champagne celebration --- good-naturedly endorsed by the Ems' front office --- in the visiting clubhouse at P.K. Park.
August 30-Sept. 1, 2014: The Hops cap a 9-3 season mark against Eugene with a sweep of the Ems at Ron Tonkin Field in the final regular season series, part of a franchise-record eight-game winning streak (including the playoffs). Hillsboro would later win its first-ever NWL championship.
Sept. 4-6, 2015: The Emeralds enter the final series of the season in Hillsboro needing just one win in three games to clinch the second-half title (Hillsboro had won the 1st half). Eugene's front office --- with the approval of the Hops' front office --- wheels in a cart of champagne before Friday's first game of the series, but after 2-0 and 4-1 Hops wins, the bubbly is still unused. Hillsboro leads the final game 3-2 entering the top of the ninth inning, and Eugene puts the tying run at second with one out. Diving plays by first baseman Trevor Mitsui and right fielder Stephen Dezzi end the game and Eugene's season. The uncorked champagne is wheeled back to the car for the trip back to Eugene. The Hops later win their second straight NWL title.
Sept. 3-5, 2016: Eugene brings an eight game winning streak --- and a remarkable 54-19 record --- to Hillsboro for the final series of the regular season. Eugene had already won both halves --- and they already knew Hillsboro would be their first-round playoff opponent. The Hops seemingly gain momentum by sweeping three from Eugene to end the regular season.
Sept. 7-9, 2016: The Hops & Ems square off in the postseason for the first time ever; Eugene had won both halves with a 54-22 record, but Hillsboro takes Game One of the best-of-three South Division Series at Ron Tonkin Field when little-used catcher Jose Queliz hits a walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th inning. Hillsboro has now won four straight against a team that had dominated all comers that season.
But the Ems gathered themselves and turned it around, taking Game Two at home 6-2 to force a deciding third game. Game Three was the most excruciating loss in Hops franchise history, as Hillsboro goes 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position and loses 2-1. The Ems advance to the NWL Championship Series, where they beat Everett to win their first outright NWL title in 41 years. Some people predict that the end of the Ems' drought means their parent club, the Cubs, will break their curse. Indeed, 50 days after Eugene wins their title, the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
Sept 6-7, 2017: The two clubs meet for the second consecutive year in the South Division Series. This time Hillsboro had won both halves during the regular season… and yet Eugene again won the series, this time sweeping it in two games.
In Game One in Eugene, the Hops lead 2-1 entering the bottom of the seventh. The Ems tie it on a two-out, seventh-inning single by Zach Davis, and go ahead on a two-out, eighth-inning single by Gustavo Polanco. Eugene wins 3-2.
Back at Ron Tonkin Field for Game Two, Hillsboro scores a run in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game 4-4, but Eugene scores six times in the top of the ninth en route to a 10-4 win and another trip to the NWL Championship Series (this time they lost, to Vancouver).
And this year: Eugene spoiled Hillsboro's home opener on June 20th with a 4-3 win… but the Hops went on to win both halves again, going 8-4 against the Ems during the regular season. Hillsboro finished 51-25 (.671), the top winning percentage in minor league baseball; Eugene was 31-45, but they are the Hops' playoff opponent by virtue of finishing second in the South Division during the season's second half.
OTHER PLAYOFF NOTES:
DRIVE FOR FIVE SUCCESSFUL: When they clinched a 2018 playoff berth by winning the first-half title back on July 20th, Hillsboro tied the NWL record by earning a playoff berth for the fifth consecutive season (matching the mark set by Vancouver from 2010-14). The NWL has been in existence for 64 years.
ALL GAS, NO BRAKES: There is no coasting for Hillsboro once a playoff berth is secured. The Hops won the South Division first-half flag in 2014, '15, '17 and '18… and each time, they also won the second half. Yes, the Hops have won EIGHT of the last 10 halves in the South, with Eugene winning the other two (both in 2016, with the Hops also advancing to the playoffs that year).
THEY REMEMBER: The Hops have four players who were on the postseason roster for the Hops' South Division Series loss to Eugene last year: OF Jorge Perez, OF Dan Swain, INF Ryan Tufts and LHP Kenny Hernandez. Perez was 1-for-5 in the Hops' two playoff games. Swain pinch-ran and scored a run in his only appearance. Tufts and Hernandez didn't play. … 1B Francis Martinez and 3B Joey Rose were late-season call-ups to Hillsboro from the AZL in 2016, and were with the Hops for Hillsboro's first South Division Series loss to Eugene, though neither saw action.
WELCOME TO THE HOPS: The Arizona Diamondbacks have added three players to the Hops' roster for the postseason, all from Rookie-level Missoula (which missed the playoffs). This includes 1B Zack Shannon (who led the Pioneer League in batting average and home runs, and finished four RBIs short of winning the Triple Crown), C Zach Almond and 3B Buddy Kennedy. Detailed bios on the three newcomers --- and all Hops players --- can be found by accessing the Game Day Information link above.
BUCK THIS TREND: The Hops are 0-3 in the postseason at P.K. Park-6-2 and 2-1 losses in 2016, and a 3-2 loss in 2017. In those three games, Hillsboro is 1-for-25 with runners in scoring position.
MONEY WELL SPENT: If the Hops win the NWL title this year, team owners Mike & Laura McMurray will have to buy a lot of championship rings. Hillsboro used 60 players in 2018, the most in the NWL, and three shy of the league record of 63… set in 2016, by the Hops. (Hillsboro added three new players from Rookie-level Missoula in the Pioneer League for the postseason, but league records don't usually include postseason numbers.) Eugene used the second-most (58), while Vancouver used the fewest (41).
Yet, the number of players used can be misleading; there has been plenty of stability. Many seldom-used players have come and gone, while 22 players from the Hops' current 35-player postseason roster were with the club as early as June, not long after Opening Day. And an informal count shows only eight key contributors are no longer with the club-OF Tra Holmes, SS Ryan Dobson, INF Jose Caballero, starting pitchers Adrian Del Moral and Franklyn Soriano, and relievers Luis Castillo, Kyler Stout and West Tunnell. All eight of them have been gone since July.
PITCHING & DEFENSE: Hillsboro won the league ERA title, with a staff mark of 3.24. They also had the fewest errors in the league, 58.
ONE-RUN WONDERS: Hillsboro went 22-7 in one-run games in 2018, and their all-time mark in one-run games is an incredible 93-51.
ODD STAT: Yes, Hillsboro had the best record in minor-league baseball (Class A and above)… but they had just four wins by starting pitchers all year long. Why? They had three pitchers (Matt Mercer, Jackson Goddard and Ryan Weiss) who were drafted this year out of college and who were on strict innings limits; they never went the required five innings to be eligible for a win. And three others-Matt Tabor, Luis Frias and Adrian Del Moral --- all began the season as teenagers, and as such were never allowed to work more than five innings.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.