EVERETT, WASH. (Sept 11, 2022) --- S.P. Chen, Cam Coursey and Jarrod Watkins all made scintillating defensive plays, Jacen Roberson hit a pair of home runs --- including the first pinch-hit homer in club history --- and the Hillsboro Hops beat the Everett Aquasox 8-5 at Funko Field
EVERETT, WASH. (Sept 11, 2022) --- S.P. Chen, Cam Coursey and Jarrod Watkins all made scintillating defensive plays, Jacen Roberson hit a pair of home runs --- including the first pinch-hit homer in club history --- and the Hillsboro Hops beat the Everett Aquasox 8-5 at Funko Field on Sunday in the final game of the season for both clubs. Hillsboro took four of six in the series, and the Hops finished in fourth in the final overall standings, a game and a half in front of Everett. The Aquasox finished fifth, fractions of a percentage point ahead of last-place Tri-City.
It was yet another come-from-behind win for the Hops, their third of the series. Everett built a 3-0 lead over the first two innings against Hops starter Chad Patrick --- and it would have been worse without a full-layout diving play by second baseman Coursey --- and Patrick settled down to retire nine of the last 11 to face him during his five-inning stint.
Hillsboro batters drew 12 walks, the second-most in club history, behind a seemingly insurmountable record of 17 in Eugene on July 19, 2016. Three of those walks came in the third, when the Hops got on the board without benefit of a hit, with Coursey scoring on a sacrifice fly by Josh Day.
In the fourth, Hillsboro took the lead for good. Jarrod Watkins singled, and two outs later Coursey drew his third walk of the day. Chen singled to load the bases, and Adrian Del Castillo came through again. The Hops’ catcher --- who was DH’ing on Sunday --- yanked a liner into right field to score two, giving him nine runs batted in during the series. An errant pickoff throw from Everett starter Bryan Woo allowed Chen to score the third run of the inning, and Neyfy Castillo doubled to bring home Del Castillo. It was 5-3 Hops.
In the fifth, Roberson pinch-hit for Fox Semones, who had been struck in the upper body by a pitch at which he swung and missed in the fourth. Roberson drove a pitch from reliever Kelvin Nunez over the hand-operated scoreboard in right-center to make it 6-3. The first-ever pinch-hit dinger by a Hillsboro Hop came in the 797th game in franchise history.
Hillsboro added a run on a walk, a single and a double-play grounder in the sixth to make it 7-3.
After Patrick gave up three runs on five hits over five innings, Justin Martinez followed with two scoreless frames. Jackson Goddard came out of the Hillsboro bullpen for the eighth inning, and gave up two doubles and two walks. With the bases loaded and none out and a run already home, the Hops’ 7-4 lead was in jeopardy. But the Hops came up with two jaw-dropping defensive plays.
Everett DH Ty Duvall hit a jam-shot looper along the line in shallow left that seemed destined to bring home at least one run, but Chen raced out, and with his back directly toward home plate, somehow made an over-the-shoulder basket catch as he went into a slide. It may have been the best defensive play all year --- coming in the next-to-last inning of the season --- from the team that was statistically the best in the Northwest League. (The Hops finished the season with the highest fielding percentage and the fewest errors.)
Hugh Fisher came out of the Hops’ bullpen to face Ben Ramirez with the bases still loaded and Hillsboro leading 7-4. Ramirez hit a hard ground ball to first, and Watkins stepped on first and threw to catcher Gavin Logan, who applied the tag on the sliding James Parker just before he got to the plate. The sudden end to the promising inning left the crowd of 3,005 stunned.
Roberson homered again in the ninth to a similar spot, joining Caleb Roberts as the only Hops this year with a multi-home run game.
With Hillsboro leading 8-4, right-hander Christian Montes De Oca came on to work the ninth. He issued a one-out walk to Dariel Gomez and a two-out RBI single to Spencer Packard (who was 10-for-21 in the series with five walks), but struck out Parker to end it.
Hops third baseman-outfielder A.J. Vukovich, who was promoted to Double-A Amarillo on Monday, finished the season as the league’s RBI champ. Vukovich had 69 RBIs, Everett’s Dariel Gomez had 65, and Tri-City’s Gabe Matthews (a former Oregon Duck) had 64.
Hillsboro finished the year with a 60-70 record. In the second-half playoff race, the Hops were third (31-35), behind Eugene and Vancouver, who will meet Monday night in Eugene for Game One of the best-of-five Northwest League Championship Series.
In the end, the three-time-champion Hops missed the playoffs by 7.5 games. (Eugene won both halves, so Vancouver became their Championship Series opponent by finishing with the next-best season-long record.) Two bad stretches cost Hillsboro: tied for first on June 4th, they dropped 14 of their final 17 games in the first-half race; and six straight losses in Vancouver in early July effectively knocked them out of the second-half race.
From a player development standpoint, the Hops continue to shine. Forty-one former Hops have gone on to play in the major leagues, including 13 to make their big-league debuts so far in 2022.
The 2023 season begins at Tri-City on Friday, April 7th, 208 days after the 2022 season ended. Opening Night at Ron Tonkin Field will be on Tuesday, April 11th, against Everett.