On Tuesday in Eugene, the Hillsboro Hops will square off against the Eugene Emeralds in the opening game of the best-of-three South Division Series --- the second straight year the two clubs have met in the playoffs. But the rivalry goes much deeper than the past year.
It's time for a history lesson:
June 17, 2013: The Hops beat Eugene 12-0 in the first-ever game at Ron Tonkin Field.
August 28-30, 2013: The Hops enter the final home series of their first season in a first-place tie with Salem-Keizer with six games remaining. Hillsboro drops two of three to Eugene --- both losses by one run --- to fall a game back; the Hops would finish a game out and miss 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 ground out to the second baseman in top of ninth when Eugene inexplicably plays the infield back with runners at the corners and none out. (Later, Ems manager Robbie Wine would admit his mistake.) The Hops have a raucous champagne celebration --- endorsed by the Ems' front office --- in the visiting clubhouse at P.K. Park.
August 30-September 1, 2014: The Hops cap a 9-3 season mark against Eugene with a sweep of the Ems in Hillsboro in the final regular season series, part of a franchise-record eight-game winning streak (which included going 4-0 in the postseason). The Hops would go on to sweep both Boise and Vancouver to capture their first-ever Northwest League championship.
September 4-6, 2015: The Emeralds enter the final three games of season at Ron Tonkin Field needing one win to clinch the second-half title (Hillsboro had won the first half and was already in the playoffs). Eugene's front office --- with 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, and Eugene puts the tying run at second with one out. Consecutive diving plays by first baseman Trevor Mitsui and right fielder Stephen Dezzi end the game and Eugene's season (ushering Salem-Keizer into the playoffs). The still-wrapped champagne is wheeled back to the car for the trip back to Eugene. Hillsboro beats Salem-Keizer and Tri-City to win their second-straight NWL title.
September 3-5, 2016: Eugene enters the season's final series on an eight-game winning streak, already the champs of both halves --- and already knowing Hillsboro will be their first-round playoff opponent. The Hops seemingly gain momentum by sweeping three from Eugene to end the regular season.
September 7, 2016: The Hops and Ems square off for their first-ever postseason meeting in game one of the best-of-three South Division Series. Little-used catcher Jose Queliz wins the game for Hops with a walkoff single in the bottom of 10th. Including the regular-season sweep Hillsboro has now won four straight over five days against the Ems, and needs just one win over the next two games in Eugene to advance to their third straight NWL Championship Series.
September 8, 2016: The Hops enter game two with a 32-17 all-time mark against Eugene, and 16-8 at P.K. Park; but the Ems win 6-2 to force a winner-take-all final game.
September 9, 2016: It's the deciding third game of the NWL South Division Series. In the most excruciating loss in Hops franchise history, Hillsboro goes 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position and falls 2-1. The Ems advance to the 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 seasons.
That's a pretty intense history for a rivalry that spans just five seasons, no?
And what about this year? Though the Hops won each half in the South, Eugene went 8-4 in head-to-head meetings (and 5-1 at P.K. Park). Hillsboro will be trying to become the fourth consecutive team to with both halves in the South Division and go on to win the league title.
South Division Series (best of three)
Tuesday 9/5: at Eugene, 7:05 PM
Wednesday 9/6: home vs. Eugene, 7:05 PM
Thursday 9/7: home vs. Eugene, 7:05 PM (if necessary)
Northwest League Championship Series (best of five)
(IF the Hops win their opening-round series)
Friday 9/8: home, opponent TBD, 7:05 PM
Saturday 9/9: home, opponent TBD, 5:03 PM
Sunday 9/10: at North Division winner*
Monday 9/11: at North Division winner (if necessary)*
Tuesday 9/12: at North Division winner (if necessary)*
*NOTE: Because of field availability issues in Spokane, if the Hops face Spokane in the NWL Championship Series, all games would be played at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro. Spokane would be the "home" team and would bat last in games three, four and five. (Spokane is facing Vancouver in the North Division Series at the same time the Hops are playing Eugene.)
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.