EUGENE, OR – For the second straight night, the Eugene Emeralds (16-18) successfully played spoiler against the Hillsboro Hops (20-14), clinching a series victory behind a 2-1 win in front of 4,262 fans at PK Park.
Coming off a 5-2 win over the Hops the night prior, the Emeralds entered Thursday’s Grateful Dead Night at PK Park donning tie-dye jerseys while aiming to deal another blow to Hillsboro’s playoff hopes.
The storyline entering the night centered around the starting pitching matchup featuring Chicago Cubs first rounder Ryan Jensen and Arizona Diamondbacks second rounder Ryne Nelson, a former player at the University of Oregon.
Nelson’s night was short-lived, tossing only 11 pitches in an inning of work. Jensen didn’t last much longer, but his two innings of work sent a palpable buzz through PK Park. Jensen recorded four if his six outs via strikeout, allowing just one hit and one walk in the process while showcasing an impressive fastball and a hard-breaking slider.
Both sides remained scoreless until the fourth inning when the Emeralds broke through. With the bases empty and one out, Jake Slaughter slammed his team-leading third home run of the season, a towering solo shot over the left field fence that landed in the Hillsboro bullpen to put the Ems up, 1-0.
Hillsboro responded immediately in the ensuing inning. After a leadoff single from David Garza Jr. and a walk issued to Jorge Barrosa, Jesus Marriaga delivered a slow-rolling grounder up the middle and into center field, scoring Garza Jr. from second to tie the game at 1-1.
Moments later, the Hops nearly took the lead until Zac Taylor and Caleb Knight intervened. Kristian Robinson followed Marriaga’s soft single with one of his own, leading Barrosa to round from second and head home as the would-be go-ahead run. However, a perfect throw from Emeralds outfielder Zac Taylor rocketed right into the glove of catcher Caleb Knight who withstood a collision from Barrosa to apply the tag and nab the runner at home, ending the inning and keeping the game tied at 1-1.
Two innings later, Knight came through once more. The former Virginia Cavalier drew a one-out walk from Hops reliever Trevor McKenna, and soon thereafter advanced to second on a wild pitch. That wild pitch proved costly for the Hops as Luis Vazquez followed two pitches later by delivering a ground rule double into the Emeralds bullpen in right field, allowing Knight to score from second and putting the Ems back in front, 2-1.
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The Emeralds pitching staff shut the door the rest of the way in what proved to be an impressive staff outing by four Emeralds pitchers. Yunior Perez tossed 3.0 innings of relief, allowing three hits and one run while striking out three batters.
In the sixth, Perez was lifted for recent addition Chris Kachmar who like Jensen was also making his home debut, and the right-hander followed Perez’s lead by firing three impressive innings of his own, keeping the Hops scoreless while striking out three batters in the process.
Closer Riley McCauley sealed the win in the ninth with a scoreless frame to pick up his fifth save of the season, tying him for the Northwest League lead.
Eugene will now look to finish off the series sweep on Friday when 2019 5th rounder and former Washington Husky Josh Burgmann takes the mound.