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Indians end first half strong

If Jake Skole and Nicholas McBride have anything to say about it, the second half of the Northwest League season could be even more productive for the playoff-bound Spokane Indians.

Spokane has had its share of steady offensive play and solid starting pitching during the first half, and now Skole and McBride are showing they want to join the crowd.

Skole hit his first professional homer, a three-run shot in the seventh inning, and McBride struck out nine in six innings as the Indians (22-16) completed their championship first half Monday with a 5-1 win over the Tri-City Dust Devils at Avista Stadium.

NWL players take a rare day off today before starting the 38-game second half on Wednesday. Spokane’s first assignment will be a five-game series at Eugene.

McBride, whose earned-run average has dropped from 6.93 to 4.66 in his last two starts, shows signs of giving the Indians a reliable fourth starter behind Miguel De Los Santos (2-0, 1.69), Randol Rojas (2-2, 2.68) and Chad Bell (2-0, 3.62).

“I think we’re going to be able to play better baseball,” said McBride, who opened the game with four perfect innings. “We’re not going to be pressing because we know we’re in the playoffs, so I actually think we’re going to win more games.”

Skole, a first-round draft selection last month who came straight out of high school, was hitting just .230 entering the game. He had three doubles in 74 at-bats, but no homers until he took Ricky Testa (1-2) deep to right field.

“It’s good to get it out of the way,” Skole said. “I finally got one, so maybe they’ll come more often.”

Spokane leads the league in hitting behind the first-half efforts of Clark Murphy (.366), Jared Hoying (.301, six homers, 27 RBIs), Andrew Clark (.311) and Michael Olt (36 hits, 10 doubles). The offensive production from the outfield, except for Hoying, is still waiting to heat up, so the improvement of center fielder Skole could be a bonus.

“We can’t lose what we’re doing now,” Skole said. “We need to keep playing and keep playing hard.”

Spokane Indians manager Tim Hulett said after the team’s playoff-clinching win Sunday that he wouldn’t allow the players to grow complacent.

Hulett said the parent-club Texas Rangers want players at this single-A level to develop skills and an attitude about winning.

The second half will provide Spokane the opportunity to improve on its road record. The Indians were just 6-10 on the road in the first half.

Spokane was 16-6 at home during the first half, but the Indians play 22 of their 38 second-half games away from Avista.

Spokane also plays the majority of its second-half games (20) against Eugene and Salem-Keizer, teams the Indians haven’t seen.

The Indians are still deciding whether to open the best-of-3 first-round playoff series at home or on the road.

One factor: The Indians close the second half at Tri-City, which would make it easy to travel to Yakima or Boise, or stay in Pasco if the Dust Devils win the second half.

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