Hops end Canadians' reign, win first title

Hillsboro scores early, completes sweep in Northwest League Finals

Hops players celebrate the team's first Northwest League championship. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

By Tyler Maun / MiLB.com | September 8, 2014 12:41 AM

When the final out of the Northwest League season landed in first baseman Kevin Cron's glove, Hillsboro Hops manager J.R. House's immediate reaction wasn't emotional. It was physical.

"Well, I got bear-hugged by [hitting coach] Mark Grace and [pitching coach] Doug Drabek at the same time," House said, "so it was kind of that: losing my air from the squeezing.

"But it was sweet."

With the first title in franchise history just one win away, Hillsboro grabbed an early lead Sunday and beat Vancouver, 4-3, to complete a sweep of the best-of-3 Northwest League Championship Series.

"It's always good to go out and get the lead," said House, whose team scored three runs in the first inning and one in the second. "At the same time, the same thing happened with Vancouver [in Game 1] at their place. They jumped out to a 5-0 lead, and we were able to chip away, get back into it and eventually win. Our guys were able to hold them off [tonight], minimize the damage and come out on top."

Taylor Ratliff started the Hops with a leadoff walk in the first, then scored on Stewart Ijames' single. In the second, the center fielder was hit by a pitch, stole second and came home on a wild pitch. Ratliff, who batted .191 in the regular season, came alive in the playoffs, posting a .400/.471/.533 slash line.

"He was our MVP of the postseason, there's no doubt about it," House said. "He was our leadoff guy, always plays an excellent center field. He caught some balls that normal human beings just can't catch. To see him swing the bat the way he did and to be our spark plug to our offense is awesome."

With the early advantage, the Hops set to the task of locking down their first championship. Starter Felipe Perez (1-0) allowed two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out three over five innings. Nick Baker, Rob Wort and Luis Ramirez combined to yield a run over three frames and get the ball to closer Zac Curtis. As he did in Hillsboro's previous three playoff games, Curtis earned the save, pitching a hitless ninth.

The Hops' victory ended the Canadians' reign atop the Northwest League. Vancouver was trying to become the first team to win four straight championships since Spokane from 1987-90.

"Coming into [this season], about half our team, we don't even know who they are," House said. "It takes a couple weeks just to get to know the guys. And the biggest thing with our staff this year was just the accountability of the kids. They play hard. A lot of times, they would overwhelm the competition just by their tenacity. That was the most proud I was with the guys, how hard they play each and every day. It was very easy to motivate them."

The first title in franchise history followed a season that saw the club reach a host of milestones, including the league's best overall record (48-28), two South Division crowns and a team ERA title.

"This whole offseason, they can brag. They can talk about it," House said. "They can tell their family and be proud that they're champions. They earned that each and every day. They won the first half, they won the second half, they swept the South Division [finals] and then they swept the Championship Series.

"These guys are champions. They earned it, and I'm just so proud of them."

Ryan McBroom went 3-for-4 with a double and drove in two runs for the Canadians.

Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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