VANCOUVER, B.C. --- The Hops have hit the road, and they just may be hitting their stride.
Connor Grey took a shutout into the seventh inning on Sunday afternoon, Camden Duzenack homered to highlight a nine-hit attack, and Hillsboro quieted another sellout crowd of 6,413 at Nat Bailey Stadium in a 6-1 win. The Hops have taken the first two games of the five-game series --- both sellouts --- and they remain one game behind first-place Eugene in the Northwest League's South Division. There are seven games remaining in the first-half pennant race.
The numbers suggest the Hops should be the best team in the league --- they lead the league in runs scored, and they are just 11 shy of leading the league in fewest runs allowed. They have scored 44 more runs than they have given up, a run differential which is a full 30 runs better than any other club in the NWL. And yet their 17-14 won-loss record is one game worse than both Eugene and Vancouver.
Hillsboro broke a scoreless tie in the top of the third inning when Eudy Ramos' two-out single drove home Billy Endris, who had led off the inning with a walk. The Hops added two in the third to make it 3-0 on an RBI single by Pavin Smith and a bases-loaded walk drawn by Ryan Grotjohn.
Grey scattered six base runners over six and a third innings, pitching out of tough jams in the third, fourth and sixth. He is now 4-2, and tied for the league lead in wins.
Grey, a former catcher, showed his athleticism in the third. With the Hops nursing a 1-0 lead, Vancouver's Cullen Large belted a leadoff triple to right. But Grey retired Bryan Lizardo on a line drive back to the box which ripped Grey's glove right off his hand --- Grey threw Lizardo out at first, as Large held at third. Then, with the contact play on, Large broke for home on a soft lineout back to Grey, who threw to Drew Ellis at third to double off Large.
The Canadians had a runner at third with one out in both the fourth and sixth innings, and Grey worked his way out of both jams unscathed. In the sixth inning jam --- which turned into a first-and-third two-out situation --- Grey had help from his batterymate Tim Susnara. The Hops' catcher cut down Kevin Vicuna attempting to steal second, which ended the inning.
Grey issued a leadoff walk in the seventh. Two batters later, Vancouver DH David Jacob grounded a base hit to right to break the shutout, and Grey was lifted in favor of Rafael Pujols. After walking the first hitter he faced, Pujols retired Large on a fly out and then struck out Lizardo to end the inning.
With the Hops leading 3-1, Susnara doubled leading off the eighth inning. He scored on a one-out single by Connor Owings, and then Owings scored on a smoked line-drive home run to left by Camden Duzenack. It was 6-1 Hops.
Matt Brill worked a scoreless eighth, pitching around a single, his own error, and a walk. The inning ended on a double play started by Duzenack, who fielded a bad hop to start the play.
Anfernee Benitez tossed a 1-2-3 ninth to finish it.
Ramos and Owings each had two hits. Pavin Smith also had a pair, and is 5-for-9 in the series. He's now hitting .333, and is about to have enough plate appearances to qualify for the league top 10 (he would have been third in the NWL entering play today if he'd had enough). Duzenack has now hit in seven straight.
Vancouver starter Dalton Rodriguez (2-4) took the loss. Bobby Eveld worked 2.2 scoreless innings for Vancouver. Eveld is the older brother of former Hop Tommy Eveld (now two levels up from the Hops with Visalia in the Cal League). The strong-armed Bobby Eveld is embarking on a pitching career with the Blue Jays this year after not playing baseball since high school. Both Bobby and Tommy were football players at the University of South Florida.
Eugene won at home over Everett to maintain a one-game lead on the Hops, and the Emeralds hold the tiebreaker over Hillsboro. The Hops have to gain two games in the standings on Eugene over the next seven days --- and also fend off Boise --- to win the first-half title and secure the accompanying playoff berth.
On Monday, the Hops will look to make it three in a row to start the five-game series in Vancouver. (The Hops have never won a series north of the border.) The game broadcast begins at 7PM on Rip City Radio 620 AM and www.HillsboroHops.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.