The Northwest League's second half has given the Everett AquaSox a second chance. Everett was the worst team in the league (11-27) during the first half, but the AquaSox (8-6 second half) lead the North Division by two games over Vancouver and Tri-City. The prize for winning the second half will be a best-of-3 divisional playoff matchup against the Spokane Indians, who are in last place (4-10) for the second half but won the first half with a record of 25-13. Read story
Spokane produced a 5-1 record against Everett during the first half of the season, outscoring the AquaSox 37-14. It was a 3-0 win over Everett on July 21 that capped the first half and allowed the Indians to tie Vancouver for first place. Spokane won the tiebreaker by having a 4-2 head-to-head advantage over the Canadians.
Everett, Vancouver and Tri-City (1-5) were easy pickings for Spokane during the first half. Before Thursday's game, the Indians owned a 16-5 record against divisional rivals.
Now it's 16-6 as the AquaSox show they've made up some ground. They'll have more chances to do so in the next five days, with two more games at Avista Stadium and three against Spokane at Everett.
"We’ve kind of started putting it together in the second half, so it’s really fun playing every day," said catcher Adam Martin, who led Thursday's charge with five RBIs. "I think one thing is we had a lot of college guys, so they weren’t really used to the everyday grind. Now everyone’s settled in and we’ve had a bunch of guys step up and do their roles. And the pitching has come a long way and they’re doing really well right now. … We lost, I think, 14 one-run games last half, so we were close every game."
Spokane outhit Everett 13-11 Thursday as the top of the lineup was constantly on base. But Everett produced two-out RBIs and Spokane didn't.
Indians pitcher Jason Hoppe (1-2), making his second start of the season, allowed five earned runs in three innings. All came after two outs.
"He got an out, got behind hitters and gave up runs," Indians manager Tim Hulett said of Hoppe's pitching in the first and third innings. "It cost him both times. He makes the pitch and he’s out of the inning. Walking a guy hurt him twice. He was one pitch away from getting out of that first inning."
Everett's No. 3 hitter, with the colorful name Sheehan Planas-Arteaga, went 3 for 4 and scored in the first, third and fifth innings. Planas-Arteaga entered the game with a .186 batting average and ended the night at .208.
Spokane's Seth Spivey increased his league batting lead by finishing 2 for 3 to improve to .355. But it was a mixed bag for Spivey, who was caught too far off second base in the fifth inning and was doubled up on Luke Tendler's liner to Jordan Cowan, and was ejected after arguing an inning-ending called third strike in the eighth.
"We’re not trying to score from second," Hulett said of the double play in the fifth with the bases loaded. "If the ball goes through, we still have the bases loaded and nobody out, so that was a base-running mistake."
As for the ejection, Hulett said: "I think it was pretty obvious it was a breaking ball high. We had some things that didn’t go our way and I think (Spivey) was just frustrated with it."
Spokane's Eduard Pinto (.344) moved from third to second in league batting by going 2 for 5. Tendler (.341) moved from fourth to tied for third by finishing 2 for 4, including his lined solo homer in the fourth. The blast, his eighth of the season, tied Tendler for second in the NWL, one behind teammate Jose Trevino.
Another bright spot was the Indians debut of 18-year-old outfielder Josh Morgan of Corona, California, who was selected in the third round of June's Major League Draft. Morgan singled in the fourth, sixth and eighth, made a beautiful fielding play to end Everett's sixth and helped turn a double play in the seventh.
"(Morgan) really had a fantastic night and showed well tonight, for a high school kid coming in here and playing with that kind of confidence," Hulett said.
Morgan's arrival coincided with the departure of all-star catcher Marcus Greene, who was promoted to Hickory, North Carolina. With Greene gone and Morgan a good fit at second base, Hulett said Trevino will get the "lion's share" of time behind the plate while Spivey and Juremi Profar "mix it around" at first and third.