The Hillsboro Hops did it the way they wanted to, and they did it better than any Northwest League team this season.
Their 6-1 win Sunday over the Tri-City Dust Devils in Game 3 of the NWL Championship series earned Hillsboro its second title in a row, finishing with a league-best record of 49-33.
But the Tri-City Dust Devils had no reason to hang their heads, coming within one game of their first NWL title in 15 seasons. The Dust Devils finished on a high note, winning nine of their final 11 games. The only problem was that two of those losses came to the Hops in the championship series.
Hops second baseman Sergio Alcantara stepped up when it counted most, going 3-for-5 with a pair of RBI singles. The 19-year-old third-year pro from Santo Domingo Este in the Dominican Republic also made the defensive play of the day, sprinting 90 feet into foul territory to glove Austin Allen’s pop fly to open the fifth inning.
But Alcantara was one of many heroes on the day for the Hops. Carlos Hernandez, the NWL pitcher of the year, lived up to the billing by allowing just one run on two hits over 51/3 innings. Hernandez struck out seven batters and didn’t face much trouble during the day.
He was backed by an offense that racked up eight hits and came through in run-scoring situations.
Like they did in Game 2, the Hops jumped on the Dust Devils starter early, forcing Jose Castillo to leave the game after just two innings.
Castillo tossed a solid first inning, but allowed four runs on four hits and a walk during the second. Nate Robertson and Josh Anderson highlighted the inning with a pair of doubles to drive in three runs, and Alcantara followed with an RBI single to give Hillsboro a commanding 4-0 lead.
Tri-City looked like it might come back with some energy, as Carlos Belen connected on a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the second inning. He sprinted back to the dugout with a smile on his face, and it looked like all was good in the Dust Devils dugout.
But that was the only score the North Division champs could muster.
The Hops added two more runs in the top of the ninth on an Alcantata single and a wild pitch.
Castillo (0-1) took the loss and Herndandez (2-0) got the win for Hillsboro.
Anderson finished 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored, and Alexis Olmeda chipped in a two runs.
Will Headean provided a bright spot for Tri-City, retiring all nine batters he faced in relief of Castillo. Luis Hernandez followed him with two scoreless innings, typical of a solid bullpen that had allowed just two runs in the previous nine games.
Urena sits again
One of the Tri-City Dust Devils top players throughout the season has been sorely missed over the last month. Outfielder Jose Carlos Urena, a NWL midseason and postseason All-Star, is in an offensive tailspin, hitting 4-for-49 (.082) with no extra base hits in 14 games since Aug. 19.
Urena, who led the NWL in RBIs at one point, still finished the season tied for third with 45. But he drove in just three runs in his last 17 games.
Dust Devils 1B Ty France made a nice scoop on Belen’s throw in the dirt from third base to start the second inning.
Dust Devils set attendance mark
Tri-City benefited from the four extra home games in the playoffs, enough to break their single-season attendance mark of 86,095, set in 2012. The Game 3 crowd of 1,211 gave the Dust Devils a season total of 89,674, an average of 2,135.
Did you know?
Hillsboro became the ninth team in the history of the NWL to repeat as champions. The Yakima Bears, who later became the Hops following the 2012 season, did it twice, winning titles in 1959-60 and 1963-64.
The Spokane Indians hold the record for most consecutive titles, winning four in a row from 1987-90.
Other repeat champions in the NWL are: Tri-City (1965-66), Lewiston (1972-73), Eugene (1974-75), Boise (1993-95), Salem-Keizer (2006-07) and Vancouver (2011-13).