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Hops lock up first-half NWL division title

D-backs affiliate gets help from Tri-City to clinch playoff berth
D-backs first-rounder Pavin Smith leads the Northwest League in batting average (.359) and on-base percentage (.431). (Jared Ravich/MiLB.com)
July 24, 2017

It took some external help, but the Class A Short Season Hillsboro Hops are returning to the postseason. With Tri-City's 4-0 victory over Eugene on Sunday, the Hops clinched the Northwest League South Division first-half title with a 22-16 record. Even though Hillsboro fell, 5-3, to Spokane earlier in the day,

It took some external help, but the Class A Short Season Hillsboro Hops are returning to the postseason. 
With Tri-City's 4-0 victory over Eugene on Sunday, the Hops clinched the Northwest League South Division first-half title with a 22-16 record. Even though Hillsboro fell, 5-3, to Spokane earlier in the day, it did not spoil the team's celebration.

Northwest League standings
"Oh, it's awesome," Hops manager Shawn Roof said. "These guys have put in a lot of hard work this year and it's awesome to see the fruits of their labor come to fruition and get the first-half playoff berth." 
The Hops have benefited from an offense that boasts the league's best batting average (.270) and OPS (.771). D-backs first-round pick Pavin Smith has led the way, sitting atop the circuit with a .359 batting average and .431 on-base percentage. Camden Duzenack (.324) and Eudy Ramos (.316) are fourth and sixth in batting, respectively. 
"It started from the beginning with Yan Sanchez and Eudy Ramos," Roof said. "Those guys carried us -- they were on fire and still on fire -- until the new Draft picks came. And with Pavin Smith here, Daulton Varsho has had some monster games. 
"From the moment [Pavin] got here, it looks like he's belonged. He never looked like he was nervous or scared of the challenge. ... He stays within himself, he takes what the pitchers give him and that's why he's at the top of the league in hitting." 

On the pitching side, Hillsboro is second behind only Eugene with a 3.37 ERA. Tyler Keele owns the third-best individual ERA at 2.17, while Connor Grey's five wins are tops among any starter in the league. Erbert Gonzalez has solidified the bullpen with a 2.20 ERA and six saves. 
"With the pitching staff, Tyler Keele and Connor Grey have led the way and set the tone for us," Roof said. "In the back end of the bullpen, we had Junior Garcia and Cody Clark early and now Erbert Gonzalez, who has the most saves in the Northwest League. I can't say one particular guy, these guys brought it every single night."
As the schedule starts Monday with a clean slate, Roof said he thinks his team as the right ingredients to replicate its first-half success.
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"The way these guys work, they're not going to stop, they're going to want to try to win the second half as well," the skipper said. "That's the type of guys we have, they're a special group. I think it's going to give us an opportunity to work on some things and get some guys in the lineup. So we'll go from there." 
Other clinchings:
Orem 12, Great Falls 9 
Franklin Torres fell a triple shy of the cycle and drove in four runs to lead the Owlz to the Pioneer League South Division first-half crown. Orem is tied for the league lead in batting at (.317), with Manuel Guzman setting the pace with a .341 mark. Box score

Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt.