The Emeralds cashed in on three of Hillsboro's four walks and a couple of defensive miscues to take the early advantage in the best two-out-of-three playoff series. Cruz had reached base on a one-out base on balls by reliever Matt Peacock in the eighth.
A series of questionable calls also went the way of the home team, leading to the ejection of Hillsboro manager Shawn Roof in the top of the ninth inning after designated hitter Luis Lara was ruled out at first base on what appeared to be a leadoff infield hit.
Drew Eillis homered off Eugene starting pitcher Jose Albertos in the top of the fifth, breaking a scoreless tie. In the bottom of the inning, Hops pitcher Kevin McCanna, the NWL Pitcher Of The Month in August, issued a leadoff walk to Jhonny Bethencourt. With Bethencourt still stationed at first and two outs, Chris Singleton whistled a line drive hit to right. Hops right fielder Bryan Araiza bobbled the ball and Bethencourt made a break for home. The Hops' awkward relay home bounced away from catcher Daulton Varsho, allowing the tying run to score on the error.
Hillsboro regained thte lead in the sixth, but it could have been more. After Jorge Perez led off with a base hit, leadoff batter Camden Duzenack grounded into a force at second, the relay throw for a potential double play pulled Polanco off the bag, but Duzenack was ruled out anyhow on an interference call at second base. Ryan Grotjohn followed with a base hit, stole second, advanced to third on a balk and scored on Luis Lara's two-out double.
Down 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Bethencourt again coaxed a leadoff walk from McCanna, who had the lowest ERA among NWL relievers during the regular season (0.27). Once again, McCanna retired the next two batters and appeared to be out of the inning when Chris Singleton grounded to second. Grotjohn went to Duzenack at second for the force, but Bethencourt was ruled safe, when video replay appeared to show otherwise. Eugene capitalized on the extra out when red-hot Zach Davis, 12-for-25 over the past five games, laced a single to right to socre Bethencourt with the tying run.
Eugene relievers Elvis Diaz and Jake Steffens struck out the side in the eighth before Cruz earned his free pass with one down in the bottom of the inning. After a Will Remillard single put runnes at the corners, Peacock struck out Bethencourt. But the defending NWL champion Emeralds delivered yet another clutch hit as Polanco lined softly to center to plate Cruz.
All three Eugene runs came on two-out hits. All three runs had reached base on walks.
Still, Hillsboro had a chance in the ninth when Lara appeared to beat the throw to first on a ground ball that deflected off pitcher Jake Steffens to second base. Three was the magic number for Roof, who flew out of the dugout and tore into the first base umpire, leading to a swift ejection. In a sadly ironic twist, it was the first game of teh season for both teams playing with a four-man umpiring crew. The NWL utilizes two-person crews during the regular season but expands to four-man crews in the postseason.
Peacock was charged with the loss, while Steffens earned the victory. Steffens and Diaz combined on 3 1/3 innings of one-hit, scoreless relief with four strikeouts and no walks. McCanna matched his season total of two runs and one earned run allowed over a three inning relief stint. Brian Shaffer pitched scoreless inning, allowing one hit and one walk with six strikeouts. The sixth-rounder from Maryland did not start the game. That honor went to Arizona Diamondbacks' pitcher Randall Delgado, who pitched a 1-2-3 first inning in a rehab appearance.
Game two of the series is at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro. Originally scheduled for Wednesday night, the series was pushed back a day after scheduled Tuesday opener at Eugene was postponed due to poor air quality from Oregon wildfires. All tickets purchased for Wednesday's game will be honored Thursday night at the ballpark. The game will be broadcast live on Rip City Radio 620 AM with pregame coverage beginning at 6:35 p.m., first pitch at 7:05. Should the Hops win, game three will be Friday night at Tonkin Field, same time.
Vancouver defeated Spokane 2-1 in the North Division playoff opener. The NWL Championship Series begins Saturday. If the Hops advance, games one and two will be at Tonkin Field Saturday and Sunday, both games at 7:05 p.m. If Spokane advances from the North, all games will be played in Hillsboro due to the lack of availability of Spokane's Avista Stadium.