EUGENE, ORE. --- So often during the Hillsboro's runs to back-to-back Northwest League titles, the baseball gods seemed to be solidly in the Hops' corner. Not so on Friday night at P.K. Park. Eugene's excellent pitching staff denied the Hops time after time in key spots to secure a 2-1 win and take the best-of-three South Division Series two games to one. The Emeralds advanced to the Northwest League Championship Series for the first time since 2000.
How tough a loss was this for the Hops? They left 11 men on base, and went 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position. In seven different innings, Hillsboro had at least one runner in scoring position with fewer than two out, and couldn't get him home. Time after time, when just one key hit may have been enough for the Hops, Eugene's pitching came through.
Hillsboro had a chance to seize the momentum in the top of the first inning against Ems starter Erling Moreno. Jason Morozowski led off the game with a single to center field, and one out later Josh Anderson drew a walk. However, Moreno induced Luke Lowery to pop out, and retired Justin Chigbogu on a ground out.
Eugene struck first against Hops starter Tyler Mark in the bottom of the inning, as Wladimir Galindo's sacrifice fly to center brought home Yeiler Peguero.
In the second, the Hops pulled even at 1-1, but again lost an opportunity to seize control. Paxton De La Garza and Jose Queliz each singled to begin the inning, and with one out Ben DeLuzio walked to load the bases. A wild pitch brought the tying run home, and Hillsboro had two of their most-productive hitters, Jason Morozowski and Mark Karaviotis, due up. But with runners on second and third, Moreno struck both of them out.
It was a similar story in the top of the third. With one out, Lowery and Chigbogu each singled to put runners at the corners, but De La Garza and Queliz each fanned.
In the bottom of the third, Peguero drew a leadoff walk, and Mark was pulled from the game in favor of Connor Grey. Eugene's Chris Pieters singled, and a wild pitch from Grey put runners at second and third with none out. Galindo brought home Peguero for the second time in the game, this time on a ground out to first base. Eugene led 2-1, and Grey escaped further damage by inducing a fly out from Trent Giambrone and striking out Tyler Payne.
From there, it was a parade of missed opportunities for the Hops.
In the fourth, Connor Owings led off with a double and went to third on a ground out. Morozowski walked, but Karaviotis grounded into an inning-ending double play.
In the sixth, De La Garza had a leadoff single and Owings drew a one-out walk, but the speedy DeLuzio grounded into an inning-ending double play.
In the eighth, Chigbogu singled and was removed for pinch-runner Matt McPhearson. De La Garza was beaned by Eugene reliever Michael Knighton, and Adam Walton ran for De La Garza. But with runners at first and second and none out, Alexis Olmeda --- pinch-hitting for Queliz --- grounded into a yet another twin-killing. With McPhearson at third, left-hander Wyatt Short replaced Knighton, and short induced pinch-hitter Luis Veras to ground out to Galindo at third to end the threat.
And the Hops had one final chance in the ninth, as Ben DeLuzio doubled to begin the inning. Wyatt Short, though, was up to the task. He struck out Morozowski and retired Karaviotis on a ground out to third. With the Hops down to their final out and the tying run at third base, Anderson lofted a foul fly down the right field line. Pieters, the first baseman, over-ran it, and lunged backward. He didn't get it, but right-fielder Robert Garcia did, stabbing it back-handed as he and Pieters collided. Garcia held on, and the Emeralds' celebration began.
The Ems won despite some frustration of their own. They went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, as the Hops got strong relief from Grey, Riley Smith, Colin Poche, Tommy Eveld and Kevin Ginkel.
The game capped a remarkable seven-day, six-game stretch between Eugene and Hillsboro in which the home club won all six games. Hillsboro had swept Eugene in the season-ending three-game series at Ron Tonkin Field over Labor Day weekend. And when the Hops won Game One of the South Division Series on Wednesday at home --- 4-3 in 10 innings --- Eugene could have mentally folded up their tents and prepared to go home for the winter. Instead, they roared back for a 6-2 win at home in Game Two, setting up Friday night's finale.
And though it was a frustrating ending for Hillsboro, the Hops had another successful season under the stewardship of Shelley Duncan. Despite using a league-record 63 players (the previous high had been 56), the Hops finished with the second-best "half" in franchise history, going 23-14 in the second half.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.