Blackburn, Hawks win Game 1

Cubs prospect blanks Volcanoes in Northwest League playoffs

By Jonathan Raymond / | September 2, 2013 9:17 PM ET

Momentum, as they say, is only as good as your next day's starting pitcher.

Fortunately for Rookie-level Boise, its starter in Game 1 of the Northwest League semifinals was awfully good.

The Hawks lost their last five regular-season games, but none of that mattered once Paul Blackburn took the hill at Memorial Stadium. The Cubs' No. 17 prospect allowed two hits over a career-high seven innings Tuesday night as Boise beat Salem-Keizer, 3-0, in the opener of the best-of-3 series.

Blackburn (1-0) hadn't thrown more than five innings in any start since the Cubs selected him 56th overall in last year's Draft. He said his pitch count wasn't any more generous on Tuesday, but things just clicked.

"It felt like everything was working tonight. I kept people off-balance really well and Lance Rymel, my catcher, did a great job with mixing up pitches. I was never predictable," he said. "And I felt like I could throw any pitch at any time in any situation tonight. It was the longest start of the whole year, just kept my pitch count down tonight. It was good to go out there and get momentum after losing five in a row.

The 19-year-old right-hander tied a career best with eight strikeouts and did not walk a batter.

"Coming out and winning this game definitely swings around everything. There's been lots of ups and downs this year, but everyone just cleared it out [for the playoffs]," he said. "It's like a brand new season right now and everyone played well. It helps not having to win two in a row."

Blackburn has been a reliable arm for the Hawks, notching a 3.33 ERA and 38 strikeouts against 29 walks in 46 innings. His best start, he admitted, came at a pretty opportune time.

"My first start of the year, I went five, had eight Ks and one hit, but yeah, this is hands-down my best start of the year," he said. "It feels good to be able to help these guys out. Everyone's going for the same goal. To be able to do that tonight was big."

Boise will have two chances to nail down a spot in the Championship Series. Game 2 is Wednesday in Salem-Keizer.

Zack Godley relieved Blackburn to start the eighth and struck out three over the final two innings to earn the save and complete the shutout.

"It was smooth," Blackburn said. "We usually have about an 80-85 pitch count; I threw 82 tonight, so they just left me out there. And I felt like I could've went the whole way, but the manager [Gary Van Tol] did a good job tonight bringing in Godley to get the save. Can't complain there."

Yasiel Balaguert powered the Hawks' offense, going 3-for-3 with two RBIs. Kevin Encarnacion also had three hits, including a double, and scored twice, while Danny Lockhart contributed a double and a run scored.

Volcanoes starter Chase Johnson (0-1) took the loss, despite allowing two runs -- one earned -- on six hits and a walk while fanning six in five frames.

In other Northwest League playoff action:

Vancouver 5, Everett 1

Brendan Kalfus doubled and scored the tying run on a wild pitch in the fifth and the Canadians scored four times an inning later to take Game 1 of the other semifinal. L.B. Dantzler doubled in a run in the sixth, Michael Reeves drew a bases-loaded walk and Kalfus plated two more runs with a single.

Matt Dermody walked one and struck out four in two hitless frames for the win as the Vancouver bullpen combined for eight strikeouts over the final four innings. Kalfus, Dantzler, Mitch Nay and Andy Fermin each had two hits for the Canadians.

Mariners second-round pick Austin Wilson drove in the lone run for Everett, which hosts Game 2 on Wednesday. Box score»

Jonathan Raymond is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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